A pancreas abnormality is a sign that young children with cystic fibrosis may develop diabetes later in life, a study reports.
The abnormality is fewer cells that produce and regulate blood sugar. These beta cells are part of clusters of different cells that scientists call islets.
Researchers published their work in the journal Scientific Reports. The title is “Structural abnormalities in islets from very young children with cystic fibrosis may contribute to cystic fibrosis-related diabetes.”
Cystic fibrosis patients used to have short lifespans. Better care, including new therapies, has prolonged their lives considerably.
The longer they live, however, the higher the risk of them developing diabetes. Although scientists don’t exactly know why, many believe it’s because of a drop in the number of islet beta cells over time.
Researchers decided to test this hypothesis by analyzing pancreas tissue samples from children with CF under 4 years of age and adults with both CF and CF-related diabetes.
Their key finding was that the children with CF had half the number of beta cells as children without the disease. In addition, children with CF had fewer areas in the pancreas producing insulin — a hormone that delivers blood sugar to cells — than the controls.
“Our observations are compatible with the view that impaired beta-cell growth in the young CF pancreas prevents the expansion of an already smaller-sized beta cell population present at birth, which results in an inadequate beta-cell mass incapable of meeting metabolic demands,” the researchers wrote.
The team also found inflammation-promoting cells in the islets of children with CF, which they said may contribute to the islets’ dysfunction.
Overall, “our study clearly establishes an altered cellular composition, early beta cell deficiency, and impaired growth capacity of beta cells as properties for pancreatic islets in infants and young children with CF,” the researchers wrote.
“These results strongly suggest that an early deficiency in beta cell number in infants with CF may contribute to the development of glucose intolerance in the CF pediatric population” and diabetes later in life, the team concluded.