Press "Enter" to skip to content

Engineering beta cells produce insulin in diabetic mice when exposed to light

Interesting experiments were carried out by researchers at Tufts University on the possibility of developing cells that produce insulin in the body to activate “on command.” The researchers conducted experiments on transplanting diabetic mice in their bodies designed beta-cells of the pancreas.

These cells are able to produce two to three times as much insulin as usual under the influence of light. These designed cells can be very useful even to humans if this method also works for them to compensate for the inadequate production of insulin, which is usually observed in diabetics. In a study published in ACS Synthetic Biology, researchers were able to control glucose levels in diabetic mice to a large extent without pharmacological intervention.

In type 2 diabetes, which is the most common form of diabetes, the body’s cells can no longer produce the necessary level of insulin, an important hormone for the body, resulting in high levels of glucose (hyperglycemia). However, in diabetes mellitus type 1, the insulin-producing beta cells are destroyed by the immune system, resulting in an almost complete absence of hormone. Currently, treatment is only done with drugs or direct insulin injections.

Thanks to this new method, which has so far been tested only on mice, the production of insulin itself is maintained at a constant level thanks to specially developed cells and a new technology – optogenetics. This technology allows the proteins in the cells to change their type of activity according to the light rays they receive.

For this reason, researchers have developed special pancreatic beta cells, designed in such a way that the gene inside them can be activated when exposed to blue light. When “activated,” this gene, in turn, activates the increase in insulin production in beta cells.

With the help of this technique, it is possible to help a diabetic patient “maintain sufficient glucose levels without pharmacological intervention. Naturally, the cells work on insulin production and the regulatory chains inside them work in the same way; we simply increase the amount of cAMP (cyclic adenosine monophosphate molecule) temporarily in the beta cells to get more insulin only when needed,” explains the Professor of Chemistry and Biology at Tufts and the corresponding author of the study, Emmanuel Tsanakakis.


Kelly Owen

Kelly majored in English Literature and is responsible for assisting in proofreading, editing and research, as well as for web design and the maintenance of this website. Beyond her outstanding writing skills, she has like the rest of us a passion for science and science reporting. She is an avid reader of many scientific journals and magazines, especially Scientific American. In her spare time she also enjoys reading fiction and hopes to complete her own novel in 2020.
Kelly Owen