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A recently discovered liver hormone, betatrophin, may provide an effective new approach to treating both types 1 and 2 diabetes mellitus. If the liver hormone acts the same way in humans as it has been observed to act in mice, diabetes treatment may be reduced to 1 injection a couple of times a month as opposed to daily insulin injections. Betatrophin has been found to stimulate production of the pancreatic [beta] cells that make insulin. This hormone, identified in mice, is also made by the human liver and holds promise as a new approach for treating diabetes.


The hormone discovery resulted from the efforts of Douglas Melton, Peng Yi, and Ji-Sun Park of Harvard University to identify physiological mechanisms that increase production of pancreatic [beta] cells. [beta] Cells are known to increase in number in response to injury or at times of increased physiological demand, such as during pregnancy. Insulin receptors were blocked insulin so that cells of the experimental mice would detect a greater need for insulin. The biologists then turned on and off a variety of genes. A protein was found that was produced in liver and fat cells and, like hormones, was excreted by these cells and transported in the blood to other cell. Extra copies of the gene coding for production of this hormone were injected into the liver of normal mice. With increased production of betatrophin, [beta]-cell production in the pancreases of these mice increased by up to 30 times.


The direct action of betatrophin is encouraging. The Harvard group is working with a pharmaceutical company to develop a form of betatrophin that can be used in humans. The plan is to begin clinical trials to determine if the hormone increases [beta]-cell production in humans, as it does in mice. Researchers caution that much work must be done to determine the safety of betatrophin in humans and if the effects of the hormone are the same as those in mice. However, Jay Skyler at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine in Florida notes that betatrophin has the potential to be "game changing" in the treatment of diabetes.


Source: Vogel G. Could new liver hormone treat diabetes? ScienceNOW. April 25, 2013. Available at Accessed June 10, 2013.


Submitted by: Alma Jackson, PhD, RN, COHN-S, News Editor at