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Hormone Found in Mice Could Provide Treatment for Diabetes, Study Says

Update Date: Apr 25, 2013 04:49 PM EDT

An effective diabetes treatment could lay in a hormone recently identified by researchers.

The hormone, called betatrophin, causes mice to produce pancreatic beta calls that secret insulin at up to 30 times the usual rate. But, the insulin is only produced when the body needs it, according to researchers at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

The team said the findings propose the possibility for the natural regulation of insulin and could even significantly reduce diabetes-related complications such as blindness and limb amputation.

The hormone shows promise in lab mice, but researchers noted that much more work is needed before it could be considered as treatment for diabetes in humans, according to Health Day. Animal experiments often do not yield results that are attainable in trials with humans.

"If this could be used in people, it could eventually mean that instead of taking insulin injections three times a day, you might take an injection of this hormone once a week or once a month, or in the best case maybe even once a year," Doug Melton, co-director of the institute and co-chair of Harvard University's department of stem cell and regenerative biology, said in a university news release.

Type 2 diabetes affects approximately 26 million Americans. It causes people to slowly lose beta cells and the ability to produce sufficient amounts of insulin.

"Our idea here is relatively simple," Melton said. "We would provide this hormone, the type 2 diabetic will make more of their own insulin-producing cells, and this will slow down, if not stop, the progression of their diabetes. I've never seen any treatment that causes such an enormous leap in beta cell replication."

Betatrophin might also have a potential role in treating type 1 diabetes, Melton said.

While type 2 diabetes is associated with being overweight, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs most often in children and young adults.

The study is published in the April 25 online edition of the journal Cell

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