MAY 17, 2018 4:28 AM PDT

Vitamin D May Aid in Treating Diabetes

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Diabetes is a growing problem in the United States and around the world. As our population gets older and more overweight, it’s expected that we’ll only add to the 27 million people currently afflicted with type 2 diabetes. The disease is caused by problems in the body’s ability to use insulin to deal with blood sugar. Sometimes insulin becomes less effective, but dysfunction in beta cells, which reside in the pancreas and make insulin, is also a primary cause of diabetes. Now scientists at the Salk Institute have learned more about how beta cells can be protected with vitamin D, which has been previously linked to diabetes. 

Enhanced activation of vitamin D curbs type 2 diabetes progression in animal models. Left: damaged insulin positive B cells (red) in a diabetic mouse pancreas. Right: B cells (red) were protected in a diabetic mouse pancreas treated with a combination of a vitamin D activator and BRD9 inhibitor. / Credit: Salk Institute

Reporting in Cell, the researchers used cells in culture and a mouse model to demonstrate that vitamin D can help treat beta cells that have been damaged. They also learned more about how diabetes and vitamin D are connected.

"We know that diabetes is a disease caused by inflammation," explained senior author Ronald Evans, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and Salk's March of Dimes Chair in Molecular and Developmental Biology. "In this study, we identified the vitamin D receptor as an important modulator of both inflammation and beta cell survival."

For this work, the researchers created beta cells from embryonic stem cells. They were then able to identify a molecule, iBRD9, that could boost the activation of a receptor that binds to vitamin D. That, in turn, improved beta cell survival when combined with vitamin D. 

The compound was found after using a screening test, which sought molecules that helped beta cells survive in a dish. After the screen, a mouse diabetes model was used to test iBRD9 and vitamin D in combination. The researchers saw that glucose levels were brought back to normal.

"This study started out by looking at the role of vitamin D in beta cells," said first author Zong Wei, a research associate in Salk's Gene Expression Laboratory. "Epidemiological studies in patients have suggested a correlation between high vitamin D concentrations in the blood and a lower risk of diabetes, but the underlying mechanism was not well understood. It's been hard to protect beta cells with the vitamin alone. We now have some ideas about how we might be able to take advantage of this connection."

It seems the vitamin D and iBRD9 increase the expression of protective genes in diseased cells. "Activating the vitamin D receptor can trigger the anti-inflammatory function of genes to help cells survive under stressed conditions," noted co-corresponding author Michael Downes, a Salk senior staff scientist. "By using a screening system that we developed in the lab, we've been able to identify an important piece of that puzzle that allows for super-activation of the vitamin D pathway." 

These findings show how understanding a fundamental physiological mechanism can improve a wide array of patient therapeutics.

"In this study, we looked at diabetes, but because this is an important receptor it could potentially be universal for any treatments where you need to boost the effect of vitamin D," suggested study co-author Ruth Yu, a Salk staff researcher. "For example, we are especially interested in looking at it in pancreatic cancer, which is a disease that our lab already studies."

The researchers did not find evidence of side effects in their mouse model, but more testing will be required before they move to clinical trials.
 

A different study by the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Seoul National University looked at the connection between vitamin D deficiency and the development of type 2 diabetes. That work is briefly outlined in the video and was published in PLOS One.

"Further research is needed on whether high 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels might prevent type 2 diabetes or the transition from pre-diabetes to diabetes," said the co-author of that report, Cedric F. Garland, DrPH, adjunct professor in the UC San Diego School of Medicine Department of Family Medicine and Public Health. "But this paper and past research indicate there is a strong association."

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! Via Salk Institute, UCSDPLOS OneCell

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
SEP 14, 2020
Microbiology
The Immune System Can Kill HIV with a Helper Molecule
SEP 14, 2020
The Immune System Can Kill HIV with a Helper Molecule
HIV attacks the human immune system's CD4 cells, a major player in the body's defense against pathogens.
SEP 19, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Reward and Punishment Take Similar Paths in the Mouse Brain
SEP 19, 2020
Reward and Punishment Take Similar Paths in the Mouse Brain
Scientists have determined that mice have brain cells that can help them learn to avoid bad experiences.
NOV 01, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
A Better View of the Mechanisms Underlying Night Vision
NOV 01, 2020
A Better View of the Mechanisms Underlying Night Vision
When light levels are low, the rod cells of our eyes go to work to help us see.
NOV 03, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
The Connections Between Toxins, Genes, and Disease
NOV 03, 2020
The Connections Between Toxins, Genes, and Disease
We are exposed to a vast array of chemicals every day. Many are harmless or even important, like the air we breathe, wat ...
NOV 11, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Visualizing a Tumor Suppressor in Action
NOV 11, 2020
Visualizing a Tumor Suppressor in Action
Many types of cells in our bodies are short-lived and need to be replenished. Cell division has to be carefully controll ...
NOV 16, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Hidden Genes in the SARS-CoV-2 Genome
NOV 16, 2020
Hidden Genes in the SARS-CoV-2 Genome
It's essential for organisms to use their genomes to make proteins, and the processes of transcription and translation a ...
Loading Comments...