Scientist using a microscope in a laboratory

Researchers from the University of Alberta have identified a molecular pathway that regulates the production of insulin in the pancreas. The pathway has been described as a type 2 diabetes “dimmer switch.”

The study, which was described by the researchers as a “game changer,” was discovered during an examination of pancreatic cells from 99 organ donors.

People with type 2 diabetes do not appear to have the “dimmer switch” pathway, but the researchers believe it can be rediscovered. Doing so could make it possible to control insulin secretion in people with type 2 diabetes.

The research could lead to new treatments for type 2 diabetes if properly developed, but it won’t be any time soon: it is one thing to prove the “dimmer switch” findings on a molecular level; actually making it work on people in a clinical setting could take decades.

“Understanding the islet cells in the pancreas that make insulin, how they work – and how they fail – could lead to new ways to treat the disease, delaying or even preventing diabetes,” said Professor Patrick MacDonald.

“We don’t know enough to stop type 2 diabetes yet, but this is a large step toward understanding what’s going wrong in the first place.”

The findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.