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Betatrophin: A New Hormone for Diabetes Control Discovered!
Diabetes is amongst those notorious diseases facing mankind, that has no permanent cure, and rather life threatening complications (obesity, impaired/lost vision, inflammations, renal failure, cardiac arrests etc!). Till date, the controls (no cure) are limited to insulin administrations coupled with dietary modulations. The worst part about the current strategy of diabetes control is the need to inject insulin into the body regularly every day! Untill recently when oral insulin was developed, most of the patients were tired of punching holes in their skin to keep their sugar levels low/under control! But, oral administration isn't a relief either, due to the strict regimes of insulin intake needed post meals. The dependency on regular intake of insulin hasn't subsided despite years of research, and the need for some permanent or at-least a mode of treatment that could give long-term effects has always been felt, especially in current scenario of ever increasing number of diabetes patients!

Douglas Melton (co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts) and team, have reported the discovery of a radically new hormone, named "Betatrophin", in a recently published research in "THE CELL" journal (9 May 2013), titled " Betatrophin: A Hormone that Controls Pancreatic β Cell Proliferation".

As the title of the research suggests, the ability of Betatrophin in diabetes control, lies in it's role in controlling the proliferation of the Pancreatic β Cells. Pancreatic β cells, which are found in the islet of Langerhans, are responsible for the secretion of Insulin, thereby making Betatrophin a bright hope for diabetes control! Moreover, it's a highly specific hormone (acts only on β Cells), thus making it a special discovery!
Here's a brief but highly informative video on interaction with Dr. Douglas Melton himself (the discoverer of Betatrophin):

As per the studies conducted on mice, the hormone is found to be secreted by Liver, White Adipose Tissue (WAT) and Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT). Following is a self descriptive image of the process, as referred from the original research paper:
[Image: betatrophin_cell.jpg]

How it Happened?
(i) Dr. Douglas and team induced insulin resistance in mice using an insulin-receptor binding peptide.

(ii) Induction of insulin resistance caused the β Cells to proliferate.

(iii) Under the conditions of proliferating β Cells, Dr. Douglas and team looked for the genes whose expression was increased.

(iv) This lead to the discovery of genes causing the secretion of special hormone, that actually caused the proliferation of β Cells, and hence named Betatrophin.

Scope of Discovery:
An 8 week old mice injected with Betatrophin exhibited 17 fold increase in replication of the insulin-secreting β cells! And considering the fact that in humans, β cells are secretory and active during embryonic and neonatal stages, but tend to replicate very slowly and secrete less actively in adults, Betatrophin can really over run the limitations. In fact, the Type 2 Diabetes (caused by decrease in the function of the β cells in adults and olds), which affects more than 300 million people worldwide, really has bright chances of long term treatment using Betatrophin!

As per the estimates of Dr. Douglas, a single injection of Betatrophin should be sufficient to replace the months-years of need of insulin injections. And, since the body will be producing it's own insulin under the action of Betatrophin, there will be much less chances/cases of complications! And considering the high activity of the hormone, it may be hoped that even Type-1 diabetes (caused by autoimmune clearing of insulin-secreting beta cells) could be tackled with this hormone!

Probable Road Map For Future
As the trials were conducted in the young 8 weeks old mice, it is yet to be seen the effect of the hormone on old mice, especially the one in advanced stages of diabetes. Whether the hormone induces it's action in diabetic and old mice/humans too, is the but obvious immediate task that the scientific community is eagerly looking forward to. At the end of the day, it's the diabetic patients who are at the receiving end ultimately, so if the hormone cannot exhibit satisfactory and controlled results in the diseased targets, it cannot really be declared a blockbuster future drug for diabetes.

Apart from that, as per Dr. Douglas, in order to initiate the first human trials, atleast 2 years will be required to produce Betatrophin in sufficient amounts for the task. So, it's not quite immediately, that the hormone will come to the service of the community at large. Apart from that, lot needs to be done to ascertain the actual mechanism (signal pathway) of action of the hormone, and more importantly, the receptors where it binds and exerts the effects. Such, key issues once addressed, will really make this discovery a new age technology to treat diabetes with possible permanent effects!

So, let's hope, Betatrophin indeed very soon becomes the blockbuster drug against diabetes!

Sunil Nagpal
MS(Research) Scholar, IIT Delhi (Alumnus)
Advisor for the Biotech Students portal (
Computational Researcher in BioSciences at a leading MNC

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According to the World Health Organization Diabetes is one of those serious diseases that eats a big number of lives every year. It is very enormous and speedily growing public health issue. It has been recently figured out that 1.9 million new cases has been diagnosed in people of 20 years old. And last year this disease had a cost in USA of $245 billion in medical expense.

Thanks to innovations being brought through the biotechnology technologists for improving the number of diabetes across the globe. This discovery being made by Harvard University stem cell institute which had a series of experiences over a mice. This institute discovered a harmone which could augment self production of insulin. The lab has made it public through its publication that the hormone named as betatrophin had elevated 30 fold boost in the production of beta cells.

These are the cells which are responsible for making insulin in the human body. Once they are boosted, there would be rapid production of insulin in the body. Famous doctor Melton has said that think for a while that if you give up the hectic practice of 3 times insulin injections and get betatraphin injections once in six month or a year, you would be able to produce insulin in your body which help you to combat against this disease.

Besides, Melton holds the view that betatrophin may be able to support you in slowing down the progression of Type 1 apart from helping those who fall in the category of Type 2 diabetes. Actually Type 2 patients comprise of 90 percent of overall diabetes cases and this type of disease is generally occurred owing to poor diet, lack of exercise, and excess weight.

Lastly, Melton’s lab is working on producing betetrophin injections which could only be used 3 times in the whole life. This would not be the permanent solution to this disease but it will be very good option available to patients.
Sasa Milosevic
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