A new study led by researchers from ETH Zurich and the University of Basel in Switzerland and Institut Universitaire de Technologie in France has shown that cells engineered to produce insulin control glucose levels in the presence of caffeine. The discovery might offer a strategy for treating diabetes.
Diabetes is an increasing problem in modern society. In diabetes, the body fails to control blood sugar, resulting in abnormally high blood sugar (hyperglycemia). Hyperglycemia can cause long-term complications such as cardiovascular disease, neuropathy, diabetic nephropathy, kidney failure, diabetic retinopathy, and so on.
One goal for treatment of diabetes is to keep blood sugar at normal levels. There are mainly two strategies to achieve this goal: sensitizing cells to insulin and injecting insulin to increase its levels. In the new study, the researchers tested an alternative strategy, engineering cells to make them produce insulin.
Caffeine is a small molecule that has been well-studied. It's non-toxic, easy to generate, and only found in certain foods and drinks like coffee, tea, and chocolate. Caffeine is the most commonly used psychostimulant in the world. A growing body of evidence suggests that caffeine exerts multiple effects on cells, including altering gene expression.
The researchers engineered embryonic kidney cells to make them produce insulin only in the presence of caffeine. Moreover, they covered the engineered cells with a material to make them evade immune attacks. Finally, they injected these cells into the abdomen of diabetic mice.
It's known that the glucose levels reach its peak after people or animals consume foods high in sugar or related nutrients. Experimental mice were given coffee after eating. The researchers found that diabetic mice implanted with the engineered cells showed more stable glucose levels after coffee consumption compared with untreated mice.
The results suggest that it's possible to control blood sugar by regulating caffeine consumption in mice implanted with caffeine-responsive cells that produce insulin. Although a lot of work must be done before the findings can be translated into the clinic, the study offers a potential way to treat not only diabetes but also other disorders.
The study titled "Caffeine-inducible gene switches controlling experimental diabetes" was published 19 June 2018 in Nature Communications.
Materials provided by CUSABIO Technology.