Researchers are looking at a novel way to improve control of type 1 diabetes. While conventional therapy for type 1 diabetes involves taking insulin, either by injection or pump, the new method involves blocking glucagon.

Glucagon is a hormone which raises blood glucose levels. In people without diabetes, glucagon and insulin work as a team to regulate blood glucose. Insulin works to lower high sugar levels and glucagon to raise low sugar levels.

In type 1 diabetes, however, this delicate balance is broken as insulin production is steadily lost over a period of years or decades. This leaves the body with an imbalance of too much glucagon compared with insulin, until insulin therapy is started.

The researchers state that previous studies have shown that when mice that lack glucagon receptors are chemically induced to develop type 1 diabetes, they do not develop high blood glucose levels. The scientists therefore investigated whether blocking glucagon could be effective in reducing or removing the need to take insulin injections.

The results showed that blocking glucagon was effective but only in mice that had some residual ability to produce insulin. This suggests that it may be effective in people with type 1 diabetes that are able to produce some of their own insulin.

Another interesting finding of the study was that glucagon-producing alpha cells were converting into insulin-producing beta cells in the mice that lacked glucagon receptors. This suggests that blocking glucagon may increase, to some degree, the pancreas’ ability to produce insulin.

The study is published in the eLife journal.