September 19, 2021

SARS-CoV-2 can cause type 1 diabetes by killing beta cells

2 min read

Researchers have identified that SARS-CoV-2 can cause type 1 diabetes by killing beta cells, making them less productive, and reprogramming them.

People who have type 1 diabetes don’t make insulin, a hormone that breaks down glucose from food. They require daily shots of insulin to control glucose, also known as blood sugar. While type 1 diabetes can be managed, it cannot be cured.

Recent studies have found that people who don’t already have type 1 diabetes can develop it after an acute COVID-19 infection. Two studies — both conducted in part at the National Human Genome Research Institute — found out how SARS-CoV-2 could cause diabetes.

After looking at autopsy samples from people who died of COVID-19, the researchers confirmed that SARS-CoV-2 seemed to target beta cells more than other pancreatic cells. When SARS-CoV-2 was blocked from interacting with neuropilin, the virus was unable to infect the beta cells. Blocking that interaction could prevent people with COVID-19 from developing diabetes.

In one study, researchers examined lab-grown beta cells infected with COVID-19 and found that they made less insulin when infected with the virus. Some of the cells died outright.

In the other study, researchers found that infection effectively reprogrammed some of those lab-grown cells. Instead of producing insulin, which breaks down blood sugar, they started producing glucagon, which increases blood sugar. The scientists then tested almost 400 drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to see if one might prevent the reprogramming. They zeroed in on a chemical called trans-ISRIB, which prevented reprogramming but not infection.

Article published courtesy of National Institute of Health

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