A breakthrough in insulin regeneration could lead to new therapies for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

Published in the Nature journal Signal Transduction and Targeted Therapy, the researchers behind the study were able to effectively reactivate the pancreas stem cells of type 1 diabetic donors to become insulin-expressing and resemble beta-like cells. This was achieved through a drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but not currently licensed to treat diabetes.

While the researchers admitted it still requires further work, this new approach could allow insulin-producing cells (beta-cells) destroyed in type 1 diabetics to be replaced with newborn insulin-generating cells, in theory.

Led by diabetes experts Professor Sam El-Osta, Dr. Keith Al-Hasani and Dr. Ishant Khurana, from the Monash Department of Diabetes, the new study could potentially lead to a new treatment option for insulin-dependent diabetes patients struggling with a lifetime of testing blood glucose and daily insulin injections.

"We consider the research novel and an important step forward towards developing new therapies," Professor El-Osta said, adding that to help restore insulin expression in a damaged pancreas, the researchers had to overcome a series of challenges since the diabetic pancreas was often thought to be too damaged to heal.

He continued, “Patients rely on daily insulin injections to replace what would have been produced by the pancreas. Currently, the only other effective therapy requires pancreatic islet transplantation and while this has improved health outcomes for individuals with diabetes, transplantation relies on organ donors, so it has limited widespread use.”

According to study co-author Dr. Al-Hasani, their findings come at a critical time since we currently have a globally aging population battling diabetes. As such, the need for a better diabetes cure is becoming more urgent.

The researchers believe that therapy utilizing their findings is still pretty far away. However, it still represents a vital step to devising a lasting treatment for all kinds of diabetes.