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Potential Diabetes Treatment found in Bones

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Scientists have discovered a potential treatment for type 2 diabetes in bones. Researchers found that bone breakdown is essential for keeping blood sugar levels normal from the release of the hormone osteocalcin that stimulates insulin release in the pancreas. The discovery could lead to new treatments for type 2 diabetes from bones.

The study highlights how important bone destruction and new growth, a process called resorption, is for controlling blood sugar levels. Individuals with type 2 diabetes have impaired production of insulin. Without insulin, glucose fails to enter the cells of the body where it is used for energy. Osteocalcin acts to turn on insulin release in the pancreas and boosts the cell's ability to use glucose.

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Gerard Karsenty, MD, PhD, chair of the Department of Genetics and Development at Columbia University Medical Center explains, "Insulin is a street-smart molecule that takes advantage of the functional interplay between bone resorption and osteocalcin, to turn-on the secretion and synthesis of more insulin." Without resorption, or bone breakdown, the body fails to produce insulin, making the bone insulin pathway important for blood sugar control and type 2 diabetes development.

"Remarkably, insulin was discovered to favor bone resorption. Hence, in a feed-forward loop it favors the activation of osteocalcin, which in turn favors insulin synthesis and secretion," said Dr. Karsenty. The strong connection found between bone breakdown and regrowth and osteocalcin also shows the bone hormone is involved in the development of diabetes.

Dr. Karsenty says osteocalcin from bones could lead to new treatment for type 2 diabetes. Increasing levels of osteocalcin in the body to promote bone breakdown and resorption have important implications for diabetics and also for individuals with osteoporosis says Karsenty. Drugs taken to prevent osteoporosis, called bisphosphonates, could place people at higher risk for glucose intolerance and full blown diabetes because they prevent bone breakdown that is necessary to control blood sugar levels.

Cell, Volume 142, Issue 2, 296-308, 23 July 2010