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Beta cells

Beta cells make, store and release insulin. Beta cells exist within clusters of different cells called islets inside the pancreas.
Content last reviewed and updated: 27.03.2024

Beta cells shown under a microscope

How are beta cells involved in type 1 diabetes?

In type 1 diabetes, your immune system makes cells called autoantibodies, which attack and destroy your beta cells. This is a slow process because it takes a while for the immune system to destroy enough beta cells to cause symptoms – around 80%.

According to immunology expert Professor Colin Dayan, having just 30-40% of your original number of beta cells is probably enough for your body to control your blood glucose levels without you needing to take insulin.

How do beta cells work?

Beta cells regulate blood glucose levels by producing, storing and releasing the hormone insulin. They keep insulin locked inside them and only release it in response to rising levels of glucose in the blood. In just 10 minutes, this insulin starts lowering blood glucose levels.

Beta cells store insulin so that they always have a supply ready to release when needed. They start making more insulin when they detect rising blood glucose levels – and even before, as Dr Alice Carr explains.

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Beta cells as a cure for type 1 diabetes

Scientists across the world are growing beta cells in their labs to transplant into people with type 1 so that they can make their own insulin again. Find out more about beta cell research in our cure research page and learn about ongoing JDRF-funded beta cell research in our cure research projects.

What else do beta cells do?

As well as insulin, beta cells release a molecule called C-peptide and another hormone called amylin. Because beta cells are destroyed in type 1 diabetes, people with type 1 have much lower levels of C-peptide and amylin than people without type 1.

What is C-peptide?

C-peptide (short for connecting peptide) is not involved in regulating blood glucose levels, but it is crucial for making insulin. Beta cells release C-peptide with insulin in equal amounts. C-peptide stays in the body longer than insulin before it breaks down. Thanks to this, C-peptide is used to calculate how much insulin beta cells are releasing because it’s a lot easier to measure than insulin.

C-peptide is measured by a blood test. C-peptide tests can also be used to distinguish between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Dr Nicholas Thomas is investigating whether C-peptide tests can help prevent misdiagnoses.

What is amylin?

Amylin is another hormone that beta cells release, which helps to lower blood glucose levels in a few ways. It delays the stomach emptying its contents, which slows the rate at which glucose can enter the bloodstream. Amylin also helps you feel full and not eat as much as well as stopping the release of glucagon.

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