type 2 diabetes

BMP-7, a protein that usually mends bones, can also make pancreatic cells produce more insulin, according to new research.

The study, conducted by researchers the Diabetes Research Institute in Miami, Florida, found that BMP-7 (bone morphogenetic protein 7) can trigger higher levels of insulin secretion. By exposing non-beta pancreatic cells to BMP-7, the researchers turned them into insulin-producing cells.

When those cells were exposed to glucose, insulin secretion increased even more. The researchers then transplanted these cells into diabetic mice, and they functioned like healthy beta cells.

“We are very encouraged by the simplicity of our finding,” said Juan Dominiguez-Bendala, director of stem cell development at the Diabetes Research Institute. “If we can stimulate them in the body, that’s where the major potential is. We’re trying that right now in mice.”

Although the research is still at a preliminary stage – the findings are yet to be tested on humans – it is hugely promising. It could be possible to inject BMP-7 directly into the pancreas to stimulate new insulin-producing cells. It could also be used to reduce the loss of donor cells during beta cell transplants. In most cases, many beta cells die during the transplantation process, but this could bring the survival rate up to around 98 per cent, potentially providing enough insulin-producing cells for seven recipients.

Dominiguez-Bendala believes that BMP-7 treatment will be less risky than stem cell treatment, and could therefore provide new treatments for people with type 1 diabetes.

The findings are published in the journal Diabetes.