Tohoku Univ. Team Finds Nerve Stimulation Could Beat Diabetes

SENDAI (Jiji Press) — A research team of Tohoku University has found that insulin-secreting cells increase when nerves connecting the brain and pancreas are stimulated.

The discovery, made in experiments using mice, could lead to the development of a fundamental treatment for diabetes, the team said. The results of the study were announced in the international journal Nature Biomedical Engineering on Nov. 9.

Medical treatment methods involving electric stimulation of nerves have already been established for epilepsy and some types of intestinal inflammation.

Insulin, which lowers blood sugar levels, is produced by beta cells in the pancreas.

For the experiments, the team created — through genetic modification — mice in which the vagus nerves connecting the brain and pancreas are activated when exposed to near-infrared light.

The team exposed some of the mice to the light for about two weeks and examined their pancreases under a microscope. It found that the numbers of beta cells in their pancreases were more than twice the levels of those in mice that had not been exposed to the light.

When similar stimulation was given for about two months to mice genetically modified to develop diabetes, the numbers of their beta cells, which had dropped, recovered and their blood sugar levels returned to normal.

“Japanese people are more likely to suffer a decrease in beta cells and develop diabetes than Europeans and Americans,” said Junta Imai, associate professor of endocrinology and metabolism at the university’s Graduate School of Medicine.

“We hope to develop a treatment method within 10 years,” he added.