New Cells are New Hope for Diabetes

Insulin levels in type 1 diabetes patients can be boosted by stem cells

(RxWiki News) If one of your organs is not working, why not just make a new one? Well, that is what some researchers are trying to do for type 1 diabetes patients, even if the task is easier said than done.

Certain stem cells may be used to replace the damaged cells that cause people to have type 1 diabetes. People get type 1 diabetes when certain cells - called pancreatic beta cells - stop making the hormone insulin, which manages blood sugar in the body.

If blood sugar levels get out of control, a person can face some life-threatening problems.

"Ask your doctor about new treatment type 1 diabetes therapies."

In search for ways to fix these broken cells in diabetes patients, Professor Shimon Efrat, from Tel Aviv University, and colleagues found that stem cells taken from adult pancreatic beta cells can replace those same insulin-producing cells.

In other words, scientists can make healthy cells - called pluripotent stem cells - from the very same cells they are designed to replace.

It is not a new idea to use stem cells to replace damaged pancreatic beta cells in people with type 1 diabetes. However, scientists have generally used embryonic stem cells because it is easy to grow large numbers of them in a lab.

The problem with using embryonic stem cells, says Professor Efrat, is that it is hard to turn them into pancreatic beta cells. Using pluripotent stem cells is easier.

Professor Efrat explains that pluripotent stem cells made from human beta cells have a sort of 'memory' from where they came. That is, the stem cells already have an idea of what they are supposed to do, which is to make more insulin-producing beta cells.

Put simply, pluripotent stem cells are more efficient than embryonic stem cells at making new beta cells.

These findings should give hope to type 1 diabetes patients, especially those who are waiting for an organ transplant to replace damaged pancreatic beta cells.

It can take years for a diabetes patient to get the organ they need. This discovery by Professor Efrat and colleagues could lead to a new treatment option for type 1 diabetes patients who need to replace their damaged cells.

The study is published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

Review Date: 
July 14, 2011