Insulin Secreting Cells Created from Stem Cells in Type-1 Diabetes Patients

A day of a Type­1 diabetes patient routinely involves insulin shots, blood sugar monitoring, and carb counting. With no cure for this form of diabetes Type­2 is reversible researchers have been diligently working towards a treatment for years.

The latest breakthrough in the diabetes battle comes from a combination of scientists from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Harvard University.

Manipulating stem cell technology, the research team has incredibly transformed stem cells in diabetes patients into insulin secreting beta cells.

Insulin shots are the standard for Type­1 patients. They don’t have the ability to create their own insulin in the pancreas due to the condition, and are unable to control their blood sugar levels. This new study hopes to eliminate that daily necessity with a personalized approach using a patient’s own cells as a Type­1 diabetes cure.

The idea in its most basic form is to convert regular stem cells found in the patient’s body into new cells that produce insulin in the presence of sugar. Cells manufactured this way are pancreatic beta cells, whose main function is storing and releasing insulin to regulate blood glucose. If the stem cell treatments end up being successful, the need for routine insulin shots will be a thing of the past.

The theory and process in creating beta cells isn’t new in stem cell research. Previous studies have tested the contrived cells in people without diabetes. But this is the first time they’ve trialed this stem cell technology on Type­1 patients, taking the stem cells from the person’s skin.

Scientists were skeptical because the cells were coming from diabetics, they assumed defects would prevent the stem cells from differentiating into beta cells.

Turns out, that wasn’t the case.

There has been success with insulin producing beta cells in the past as well. But these cells were procured from organ donors, and as with all donated cells or organs, the supply quickly runs short. Creating original beta cells from the host solves this problem in abundance. What the Researchers still need to test extensively is whether these new cells will spur tumor development. So far, in clinical trials with mice, that hasn’t been an issue.

Dr. Jeffery R. Millman, the first author of the study from Washington University, believes this stem cell treatment will be set for human trials in three to five years. To inject the new insulin producing beta cells, it will be a minimally invasive procedure, perhaps done through implanting cells underneath a patient’s skin. This allows the reconstructed stem cells to easily enter the blood stream, providing the patient with much needed insulin and a Type­1 diabetes cure.

With the insulin issue solved, that’s one big relief diabetics would no longer need to worry about in their routine.

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications on May 10.

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