The hormone — betatrophin — stimulates the growth of cells in the pancreas that are lost to diabetes sufferers, USA TODAY reports.
The study, led by Harvard’s Peng Yi, discovered that using betatrophin makes beta cells — which produce insulin — work 17 times faster than normal. That means that the 25 million American diabetes patients can do better with fewer active beta cells.
“This is really an amazing discovery. Hormones with this kind of effect aren’t discovered very often, and this opens a whole new pathway to treating diabetes,” says diabetes expert Jake Kushner. He does caution that more research is needed to confirm the hormone’s effects.
For the moment, the research team acknowledges that they don’t know how the hormone causes increased growth of beta cells. The team is working with several firms to determine whether the hormone can be used as an effective and practical treatment.