Tag: pancreas

Why type 2 diabetes is a bit like The Bourne Identity

By Ed Yong | September 14, 2012 11:21 am

In The Bourne Identity, the eponymous hero is presumed dead by his former employers, but turns out to have merely lost his memory. Thus unburdened, he attempts to change his fate.

Which reminds me of diabetes.

People with type 2 diabetes face two problems, both related to insulin – the hormone that regulates the levels of sugar in our blood. They don’t respond properly to it (they become insulin resistant), and they don’t make enough of it. As a result, the levels of sugar in their blood become too high. Insulin resistance is fairly steady throughout a person’s lifetime, but the failure to make insulin gets progressively worse. The typical explanation is that the beta-cells – a type of insulin-making cells within the pancreas – die off.

But Domenico Accili from Columbia University has a different idea. By studying diabetic mice, he has found beta-cells do indeed disappear over time, but not because they die. Instead, they revert back to a more basic type of cell that doesn’t produce insulin. Like Jason Bourne, they lose their former specialised identities and become more of a tabula rasa. In the film, it’s simple memory loss. In the cells, it’s known as “dedifferentiation”.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Medicine & health
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