Blocking Glucagon Could Provide a New Therapy for Diabetes

A combination of blocking glucagon and insulin replacement therapy could normalize blood sugar levels.

Researchers found that blocking the hormone glucagon, which raises blood sugar levels, could increase insulin levels in mouse models.

Prior studies have suggested diabetes is caused by glucagon and not a lack of insulin. Their results indicate that blocking glucagon could treat hyperglycemia.

The current study, published in eLife, shows that the mice were not lacking in insulin completely and blocking glucagon was only effective if some insulin was being made.

"Inhibiting the hormone glucagon has recently been explored as an alternative or supplement to insulin injection, but it has limitations," said lead author Pedro Herrera. "Our research reveals why: the body needs to have some residual insulin production in order for a treatment blocking glucagon to work."

Researchers used transgenic mice whose insulin was eliminated. These mice became severely diabetic.

About three-quarters of patients with type 1 diabetes have a relatively small amount of beta cells needed to produce insulin.

The study suggests that blocking glucagon and insulin replacement could keep blood sugar at a desirable level. Also, it could result in glucagon-alpha cells converting into beta cells in order to produce more insulin.

Blocking glucagon and using insulin therapy could possibly provide a safer and more effective way to maintain blood sugar in some patients.

Researchers conclude that future therapies could regenerate beta cells by reprogramming alpha cells.