According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 29.1 million people in the United States suffer from diabetes. Both genetic and environmental factors can play a role in a diabetes diagnosis. While there are ways to manage diabetes, doctors and researchers have yet to find a cure. But a chemical found in a controversial plant shows promise.
Harmine For Diabetes Treatment
Harmine is a chemical found in several plants around the world. It’s also a main ingredient in the psychoactive mixture known as ayahuasca. According to research published in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers found that “Using three different mouse and human islet in vivo–based models, we show that harmine is able to induce beta cell proliferation, increase islet mass and improve glycemic control. These observations suggest that harmine analogs may have unique therapeutic promise for human diabetes therapy.”
When researchers found that harmine could reproduce beta cells, they injected human islets into diabetic mice, then administered harmine. The chemical triggered beta cell production, which normalized blood glucose levels. Harmine was found to triple the number of beta cells in the mice.
Andrew Stewart, MD, Director of Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine was the senior study author. He explained, “Our results provide a large body of evidence demonstrating that the harmine drug class can make human beta cells proliferate at levels that may be relevant for diabetes treatment. While we still have a lot of work to do in improving the specificity and potency of the harmine and related compounds, we believe these results represent a key step toward more effective future treatment of diabetes.”
Beta cell regeneration may in fact be the ultimate cure for diabetes, but researchers still have some work to do. The next step would be to develop drug candidates that would single out beta cells as their only target. Harvard Stem Cell Institute researchers recently discovered how to make large quantities of cells that produce insulin, which could also serve as an important breakthrough in diabetes treatment. The beta cells, derived from stem cells, are currently being tested in clinical trials.