A newly discovered hormone that helps the body to produce its own insulin could provide a new treatment for diabetes and end the need for daily injections by sufferers.
Researchers at Harvard University discovered that the hormone, called betatrophin, promotes the growth of cells that secrete insulin into the blood stream.
The scientists found the hormone caused mice to produce these cells at 30 times the normal rate.
They now believe it could be used to provide a more effective treatment for type 2 diabetes, which affects nearly 2.5 million people in the UK.
Rather than having to take daily injections of insulin to control the amount of sugar in their blood, patients would need to take this new hormone just weekly or even monthly, according to the researchers.
Dr Doug Melton, from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute who conducted the research, said: "If this could be used in people it could eventually mean that instead of taking insulin injections three times a day, you might take an injection of this hormone once a week or once a month, or in the best case maybe even once a year.
"We would provide this hormone, the type 2 diabetic will make more of their own insulin-producing cells, and this will slow down, if not stop, the progression of their diabetes."
Type 2 diabetes is a life long condition that occurs when the body does not produce enough of its own insulin – a hormone that helps to control the level of glucose in the blood.
If left untreated, excessive glucose in the blood can damage blood vessels and other organs, often leading to blindness and loss of limbs.
Insulin is produced in an organ called the pancreas.
The researchers at Harvard, whose work is published in the journal Cell, found that betatrophin caused a spurt in growth of cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.
Dr Melton added, however, that the work was still in the early stages and it would be several years before a treatment using the hormone could be used by humans.