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Diabetes causes discovered by Exeter scientists

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Image credit: University of Exeter
Image credit: University of Exeter

Two new causes of a certain type of diabetes have been revealed through research at the University’s Medical School.

Published in the journal Cell Metabolism earlier this month, the research on neonatal diabetes gives further information about the production of beta cells in the pancreas. The Exeter-based team found that mutations in two specific genes important for pancreatic development can cause the disease.

The lead author on the paper, Dr Sarah Flanagan, said: “Our genetic discovery is critical to the advancement of knowledge on how insulin-producing beta cells are formed in the pancreas, which has implications for research into manipulating stem cells, which could one day lead to a cure”.

Neonatal diabetes is a rare form of the condition, affecting around one in every 100,000 births. It is caused by a genetic change that results in a dangerous increase of insulin levels.

Having enlisted over 1,200 international patients, the University of Exeter is the leading centre for research on this type of diabetes. The study, partly funded by Diabetes UK, focused on 147 young people with the condition, 121 of whom went on to receive a genetic diagnosis. For many of these patients, knowing the causes of their diabetes will result in improved future treatment, and all of the patients will provide a significant insight into pancreatic development.

Dr Flanagan added: “Neonatal diabetes is diagnosed when a child is less than six months old. We are very proud to be able to give answers to the families involved on why their child has diabetes”.

Conor McGovern, News Team

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