Scientists make diabetes treatment breakthrough

Researchers have used new technology to analyse genomes.Photo / Thinkstock
Researchers have used new technology to analyse genomes.Photo / Thinkstock

Scientists say they have made a breakthrough on possible treatments for diabetes and pancreatic problems.

Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School and Imperial College London used new technology to analyse genomes - containing hereditary information - to find the cause of some diseases.

They found that pancreatic agenesis - which results in babies being born without a pancreas, leaving them with a lifetime of diabetes and problems digesting food - is most commonly caused by mutations in a newly identified part of the genome.

The team discovered that the condition is caused by mutations in genomic "dark matter" - the vast stretches of DNA that do not contain genes that accounts for 99 per cent of the human genome.

Dr Mike Weedon, lead researcher and senior lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School, says: "This breakthrough delves into the 'dark matter' of the genome, which until recently, was very difficult to systematically study.

"Now, advances in DNA sequencing technology mean we have the tools to explore these non-protein coding regions far more thoroughly, and we are finding it has a significant impact on development and disease."

The pancreas plays an essential role in regulating levels of sugar in the blood by releasing insulin, which is generated and released by cells known as pancreatic beta cells.

Pancreatic agenesis means babies have diabetes from birth and problems with digesting food which prevents weight gain. The disease is rare, but its study also helps scientists gain a better understanding of how the pancreas works, which helps shed light on research into diabetes.

Professor Andrew Hattersley, a Wellcome Trust senior investigator who led the Exeter team, says: "This finding gives a deeper understanding to families affected by this disorder, and it also tells us more about how the pancreas develops.

"In the longer term, this insight could have implications for regenerative stem cell treatments for Type 1 diabetes."

- PAA

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