One Step Closer to Reversing Type 1 Diabetes With Stem Cells

The laboratory search for a way to reverse type 1 diabetes took a step closer to reality with the publication of a pre-clinical study that used human embryonic stem cells and a quicker protocol.

Previous methods of converting stem cells into insulin-producing cells required four months, but University of British Columbia (UBC) researchers have developed a protocol that requires just six weeks.

The newly devised, seven stage protocol transforms stem cells into insulin-secreting pancreatic cells, but the conversion is only completed after the cells are transplanted into a host.

Using this protocol, they were able to fully reverse type 1 diabetes in mice in just 40 days.

"We are a step closer to having an unlimited supply of insulin-producing cells to treat patents with Type 1 diabetes," said Timothy Kieffer of UBC's Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences and the Department of Surgery. "We have not yet made fully functional cells in a dish, but we are very close. The cells we make in the lab produce insulin, but are still immature and need the transplant host to complete the transformation into fully functioning cells."

These so-called S7 cells are not fully equivalent to mature beta cells, not yet at least, but their capacity for glucose-responsive insulin secretion and rapid reversal of diabetes in vivo makes them "a promising alternative to pancreatic progenitor cells or cadaveric islets for the treatment of diabetes."

Human embryonic stem cells have the extraordinary ability to develop into any cell in the body. One of the problems facing this kind of research -- aside from politics -- is finding a way around the immune response to transplanted cells, which are regarded as foreign and attacked.

The team reported their findings in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

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