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Insulin can Help Treat Acute Pancreatitis

Aug 25, 2014 05:14 AM EDT
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Insulin can protect pancreas cells from acute pancreatitis, researchers say.

Researchers at the University of Manchester say that insulin can be used to prevent toxic effects of metabolites that cause the disease.

Acute pancreatitis is a sudden swelling of the pancreas, the organ that releases digestive enzymes into the gastrointestinal tract.

The disease is usually accompanied by fever, nausea and abdominal swelling. There is currently no treatment for acute pancreatitis.

According to the researchers, bile acid reflux from gall stones and high alcohol intake plus a high fat diet are some of the leading causes of pancreatitis.

"In fact, the incidence of acute pancreatitis significantly increases during the Christmas period when alcohol and fat consumption is at its highest amongst the general population," said Jason Bruce, from the Faculty of Life Sciences, lead author of the study.

"When alcohol and fat accumulate inside pancreatic acinar cells - the cells that secrete digestive enzymes into the gut - the resulting small molecules called metabolites deplete cellular energy levels and increase cellular calcium. This causes uncontrolled and catastrophic cell death and the cells burst, releasing their toxic enzymes which digest the pancreas and surrounding tissue," said Bruce.

Insulin is a hormone released from the beta cells of the pancreas. The researchers considered insulin to be an ideal candidate for the study as it has been earlier used to treat obese pancreatitis patients. Insulin works by reducing fatty acids in the blood.

People who suffer from diabetes are at an increased risk of developing acute pancreatitis. The researchers say that the risk of disease decreases in diabetics receiving insulin injection, suggesting that there might be a link between insulin and pancreatitis.

"Insulin works by restoring the energy levels of pancreatic acinar cells, which fuels the calcium pumps on the membrane of these cells. These calcium pumps help to restore cellular calcium and prevent the catastrophic cell death and autodigestion of the pancreas," Bruce said in a news release.

The team said that more research is needed to prove that insulin can reduce complications related to acute pancreatitis.

The study is published in the journal Biological Chemistry. 

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