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Targeting newly identified enzyme could cure Type 1 diabetes

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Scientists believe they are one step closer to finding a cure for Type 1 diabetes. Researchers believe they may be able to reverse Type 1 diabetes by blocking a newly identified enzyme that destroys beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.

A team of physicians at Eastern Virginia Medical School's Strelitz Diabetes Center have been able to identify the enzyme 12-Lipoxygenase (12-LO) as the culprit for Type 1 diabetes. The research group is one of the few able to receive help from individuals who have donated their bodies to science through the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Islet Resource Center Consortium.

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By studying human beta cells the scientists have discovered that 12-LO is an inflammatory enzyme that produces specific lipids that destroy beta cells. When beta cells in the pancreas are destroyed the organ no long produces insulin, leading to Type 1 diabetes. Blood sugar levels rise and lead to serious health consequences unless treatment is initiated.

Studies have shown that deleting the gene that produces 12-LO can stop Type 1 diabetes in mice. Studies of donated human beta cells have allowed the researchers to confirm that the enzyme is the cause of beta cell destruction from inflammation. "We've now confirmed that 12-LO is a relevant target in humans, particularly in the pancreas, and will help lead to new therapies," says the EVMS researchers.

The team is working with investigators in California and the National Institutes of Health to find medications that would target 12-LO as a new treatment that could stop the damage to beta cells that occurs in Type 1 diabetes. The researchers hope their findings will lead to a cure for Type 1 diabetes.

Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism , doi:10.1210/jc.2009-1102