Bones and Diabetes

A research study in 2007 showed how bones make a hormone that helps to regulate sugar and fat in the body. The scientists who did this research with mice are hopeful that this breakthrough might one day lead to a treatment or even prevention of type 2 diabetes in humans.

According to Gerard Karsenty, the lead author of the study, "What this study shows is that [the skeleton] is a lively organ that has a function to regulate the biology of the other organs in the body, such as the pancreas and insulin secretion, and fat and insulin sensitivity. ... It is the first time the skeleton has been shown to reach out to other organs in the body."

The scientists doing this research discovered that cells that form bone, called osteoblasts, release a hormone called osteo-calcin, which helps the body produce more insulin and increases insulin sensitivity. Osteocalcin also pumps up the number of beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin while reducing fat.

It will likely be ten or fifteen years before research can show that this kind of hormone injection would be safe for humans. In the meantime, Karsenty recommends that everyone, especially people with diabetes, take care of their bones.

Quoted in CBS News, "Bones Play Key Role in Diabetes: Study," August 10, 2007. story/2007/08/10/bones-insulin.html.

Bones produce the hormone osteocalcin, which helps to regulate sugar and fat in the body. Research on osteocalcin may lead to treatments for type 2 diabetes.

A researcher holds a DNA micro array that has been used successfully to identify genes related to type 2 diabetes.

of human genes. But one thing they do know is that diseases, including diabetes, are usually caused by multiple genes. Perhaps diseases would be easier to cure if only one gene was responsible.

Janelle Noble is a researcher at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute who is building a genetic database of children and families with diabetes. At a meeting of diabetes experts in 2008, she said, "If we're going to prevent diabetes we have to know who's likely to get it in the first place. But looking for variants of genes that cause complex diseases is like looking for a needle in a haystack."40

Research also suggests that many more varieties of diabetes than types 1,2,1.5, and gestational may exist. If this is the case, then the genetic basis for diabetes will be even more complicated than previously believed, and treatment could be much more personalized than it is today. Many researchers studying this are investigating questions such as, of two equally overweight people why does only one have diabetes? Or, why do some diabetics still have healthy kidneys even after decades of poor blood sugar levels, while others' kidneys are terribly damaged early on?

A gene therapy developed at Baylor College of Medicine seems to have cured diabetes in mice by coaxing their liver cells to become beta cells that produce insulin. The mice were completely cured of diabetes for at least four months. Since the liver cells came from the mice themselves, antirejection drugs were not needed. While it will be many years before this procedure can safely be used in humans, it is a very promising development.

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