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Diabetes researchers at Vanderbilt University have discovered key cells in the pancreas that secrete insulin actually have the capacity to regenerate.

Researchers surprisingly observed a "burst of proliferation of pre-existing beta cells" aided by a key bone-marrow component "recruited to the site of beta cell injury," according to an article posted online in the scientific journal Cell Metabolism.

The study has important ramifications, Vanderbilt said in a press release, because scientists may some day be able to stem the rising incidence of diabetes by understanding how this regeneration occurs. Dr. Alvin Powers, the director of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Center, said the discovery is important for both people with type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

With type 1 diabetes, which was once referred to as juvenile diabetes, beta cells are destroyed and the body stops producing enough insulin. In type 2 diabetes, which typically occurs as people get older and gain weight, tissues become resistant to insulin and beta cell functions become abnormal.

The Vanderbilt research was supported with grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Reach Tom Wilemon at 615-726-5961 and on Twitter @TomWilemon.

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