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Malaria Drug Artemisinin Spurs Cells To Produce Insulin, Shows Promise As Type 1 Diabetes Treatment

3 December 2016, 8:44 am EST By Livia Rusu Tech Times
Malaria drug was found to reverse alpha cells into beta cells, which contributes to the body's capacity to produce insulin. Future research will establish if this formula could treat type 1 diabetes.   ( Cell Press, Stefan Kubicek | CeMM )

Artemisinins, the drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration in treating malaria, was found to transform glucagon-producing alpha cells in the pancreas into cells that produce insulin. The research sounds promising and it could be employed in healing type 1 diabetes.

The research, published in the journal Cell, could forever change the way we treat diabetes, by replacing the destroyed beta-cells in the patients' bodies with newly produced cells that secrete insulin.

Regenerating Beta Cells

Throughout the years, researchers have tried numerous approaches, involving both stem and adult cells, in order to induce this transformation. While years of study have contributed to a broader perspective on how this process should work from a mechanical point of view, researchers have always been one compound short when it came to completing the formula.

However, this new research, coordinated by Stefan Kubicek, Group Leader at CeMM, shows that artemisinins is the perfect fit.

"With our study, we could show that artemisinins change the epigenetic program of glucagon-producing alpha cells and induce profound alterations of their biochemical function," noted Kubicek.

Alpha and beta cells, along with other highly specialized cell types, form the Langerhans in the pancreas — the human body's control center when it comes to blood sugar. While insulin contributes to reducing the glucose in blood, glucagon does the opposite.

However, due to the high flexibility of these cells, alpha cells can cause beta cells to die in some conditions. The Arx compound was found to help alpha cells transform into beta cells, which makes the malaria drug act as a reversal treatment, modifying alpha cells into beta cells.

Possible Treatment For Type 1 Diabetes

Researchers are very optimistic when it comes to translating the effects of these molecular reactions into humans, as rodents, fish and people seem to be very similar in the key aspects investigated through this research. Further analysis should establish the long-term effects of this treatment, and whether it could be used on people or not.

What remains unknown is if the alpha cells will regenerate. Consequently, beta cells should be given protection from the immune system, which could destroy the effects of this drug's cellular reactions.

Diabetes 1 is generally diagnosed in children and young adults, and not more than 5 percent of the diabetes population have this form of the disease. It happens when the body does not produce enough insulin, the hormone that the human body requires in order to transport glucose from the blood toward the body cells. However, insulin therapy has been proven to help considerably in the overall health status of patients who suffer from type 1 diabetes.

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