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Hope for significant new diabetes treatment in Stanford discovery

STANFORD, Calif. - Certain immune-suppressing drugs, such as those taken by patients who have had organ transplants, greatly increase the risk of developing diabetes. These drugs are known to put a stranglehold on a protein called calcineurin.

So it's not exactly a surprise that Seung Kim, MD, PhD, assistant professor of developmental biology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, chose to study why calcineurin inhibition leads to the disease. What is surprising is just how central calcineurin turns out to be in the health and happiness of the insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells. His findings, to be published in the Sept. 21 issue of Nature, could shake up diabetes research, lead to new classes of diabetes drugs and aid in efforts to develop stem cell treatments for diabetes.

"This work has the potential to be big," said Scott Campbell, PhD, vice president of research for the American Diabetes Association. He said that drugs based on this research could potentially expand the numbers of the few beta cells that remain in diabetics and make those cells perform better. "That would have a major impact on the lives of people with diabetes."

In diabetes, the beta cells produce too little insulin or none at all, which prevents cells of the body from being able to take in sugar after a meal. Sugar accumulates in the blood, damaging the blood vessels, kidneys and eyes. Diabetics are also prone to nerve damage. In the United States, 20.8 million people, or 7 percent of the population, have diabetes.

Knowing the potential link between calcineurin-inhibiting drugs and diabetes, Kim and MD/PhD graduate student Jeremy Heit collaborated with Gerald Crabtree, MD, professor of pathology, in a series of experiments to clarify the connection. They worked with mice that had been bred to produce calcineurin in the pancreas only until they were born. After birth, the pancreas in each mouse stopped producing the protein. By 12 weeks of ag
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Contact: Amy Adams
amyadams@stanford.edu
650-723-3900
Stanford University Medical Center
20-Sep-2006


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