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IUPUI scientist awarded over $1.8M from NIH to advance research on diabetes

Teresa Mastracci is studying how to regenerate pancreatic cells in order to reverse disease, particularly diabetes

For Immediate Release Nov 12, 2020

INDIANAPOLIS – An assistant professor of biology in the School of Science at IUPUI has received a five-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how cells in the pancreas communicate with each other to affect growth and function.

Teresa Mastracci will use the information to develop therapeutic strategies that regenerate insulin-producing beta cells – the cells that are lost in people with diabetes.

“We’re looking to examine how the pancreas naturally develops pre- and postnatally to help us understand how these cells grow and function,” Mastracci said. “Then, ideally, this information could be used to create therapies that would bring back the cells that are dying in people with diabetes.”

The pancreas has both an endocrine and an exocrine function. Whereas the exocrine cells make and secrete enzymes that help with digestion, the endocrine cells produce and secrete hormones, like insulin, into the bloodstream. Loss or dysfunction of the insulin-producing beta cells is the underlying cause of nearly all forms of diabetes. Without beta cells, the body does not produce insulin and, therefore, cannot regulate its metabolism.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 34.2 million American adults have diabetes, and it is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

“The endocrine cells and exocrine cells in the pancreas do two very different things, so you’d think they don’t interact,” Mastracci said. “But what we’re starting to learn is that they are intimately linked and may produce critical signals that help each other grow.”

The grant will build upon previous studies from Mastracci’s lab that have identified a pathway important in exocrine and endocrine cell growth.

“Our studies are showing us that if we manipulate the exocrine pancreas, we may also affect how the endocrine pancreas grows,” Mastracci said.

Mastracci added she and her team hope this research will enable them to figure out what expands beta-cell mass and, in turn, use it to regenerate the beta cells lost in people living with diabetes.

“I’m very excited that this funding will allow us to continue these studies, and I’m proud that my lab is able to contribute significantly to the research community at the School of Science,” Mastracci said. 

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