In a screen of more than 100,000 potential drugs, only one, harmine, drove human insulin-producing beta cells to multiply, according to a study led by researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, funded by JDRF and the National Institutes of Health, and published online today in Nature Medicine.
Diabetes results from too few insulin-producing "beta cells" in the pancreas secreting too little insulin, the hormone required to keep blood sugar levels in the normal range. The disease affects 380 million people worldwide, and leads to major medical complications: heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and limb amputation.
The Mount Sinai study found that harmine drove the sustained division and multiplication of adult human beta cells in culture, a feat that had eluded the field for years. In addition, harmine treatment tripled the number of beta cells and led to better control of blood sugar in three groups of mice engineered to mimic human diabetes.
"Our results provide a large body of evidence demonstrating that the harmine drug class can make human beta cells proliferate at levels that may be relevant for diabetes treatment," said senior study author Andrew Stewart, MD, Director of the Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine. "While we still have a lot of work to do in improving the specificity and potency of the harmine and related compounds, we believe these results represent a key step toward more effective future treatment of diabetes."
Loss of insulin-producing beta cells has long been recognized as a cause of Type 1 diabetes, in which the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys beta cells. In recent years, researchers have concluded that a deficiency of functioning beta cells also contributes importantly to Type 2 diabetes. Thus, developing drugs that can increase the numbers of healthy beta cells is a major priority in diabetes research.
Ref : http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nm.3820.html