Project Description: Diabetes, a disease affecting approximately 1 in 10 Canadians is characterized by insufficient insulin secretion to control blood sugar. Although there are a multitude of drugs to treat diabetes, serious heath complications persist, leading to unwanted suffering and premature death. In type 1 diabetes (T1D), islet transplantation has opened up new avenues of treatment; however, due to donor organ shortages, it is not a viable treatment for the ~350,000 people in Canada with this disease. Recent studies have demonstrated it is possible to generate an unlimited source of insulin-producing cells from stem cells, leading to intensive efforts to make insulin cell replacement therapy a reality. Despite promising results, significant limitations still exist. One major hurdle is an inability of the insulin-secreting cells grown in the lab to connect with the elaborate natural insulin cell network in the pancreas.
This project proposes that drugs to enhance the production of new insulin cells is a much more feasible approach to treat diabetes. The team has shown that a natural chemical, GABA, increases insulin cell quantities in mice and will investigate whether GABA could be used as a drug to promote the production of insulin cells in the body. Several experiments are planned to better understand how GABA promotes insulin cell production using mouse models. The team will then test the ability of GABA to reverse diabetes in mice and provide initial proof that GABA works to enhance insulin cell production in humans.