One of the most important risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes is age. As a person gets older, their risk for developing type 2 diabetes increases. Scientists want to better understand the relationship between ageing and diabetes in order to determine out how to best prevent and treat type 2 diabetes. ADA-funded researcher Rafael Arrojo e Drigo, PhD, from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, is one of those scientists working hard to solve this puzzle.

Recently, Dr. Arrojo e Drigo published results from his research in the journal Cell Metabolism. The goal of this specific study was to use high-powered microscopes and novel cellular imaging tools to determine the ‘age’ of different cells that reside in organs that control glucose levels, including the brain, liver and pancreas. He found that, in mice, the cells that make insulin in the pancreas – called beta-cells – were a mosaic of both old and young cells. Some beta-cells appeared to be as old as the animal itself, and some were determined to be much younger, indicating they recently underwent cell division.

Insufficient insulin production by beta-cells is known to be a cause of type 2 diabetes. One reason for this is thought to be fewer numbers of functional beta-cells. Dr. Arrojo e Drigo believes that people with or at risk for diabetes may have fewer ‘young’ beta-cells, which are likely to function better than old ones. Alternatively, if we can figure out how to induce the production of younger, high-functioning beta-cells in the pancreas, it could be a potential treatment for people with diabetes.

In the near future, Dr. Arrojo e Drigo’s wants to figure out how to apply this research to humans. “The next step is to look for molecular or morphological features that would allow us to distinguish a young cell from an old cell,” Dr. Arrojo e Drigo said.

The results from this research are expected to provide a unique insight into the life-cycle of beta-cells and pave the way to novel therapeutic avenues for type 2 diabetes.

Watch the video below of Dr. Arrojo E Drigo explaining his research!

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