Washington D.C. : Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Harvard University have produced insulin-secreting cells from stem cells derived from patients with type 1 diabetes as a potential new approach to treat diabetes. People with this form of diabetes can’t make their own insulin and require regular insulin injections to control their blood sugar.
The new discovery suggests a personalised treatment approach to diabetes may be on the horizon, one that relies on the patients’ own stem cells to manufacture new cells that make insulin. The researchers showed that the new cells could produce insulin when they encountered sugar. The scientists tested the cells in culture and in mice, and in both cases found that the cells secreted insulin in response to glucose.
Millman, whose laboratory is in the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Lipid Research, began his research while working in the laboratory of Douglas A. Melton, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a co-director of Harvard’s Stem Cell Institute.
There, Millman had used similar techniques to make beta cells from stem cells derived from people who did not have diabetes. In these new experiments, the beta cells came from tissue taken from the skin of diabetes patients.
Millman said more research is needed to make sure that the beta cells made from patient-derived stem cells don’t cause tumors to develop, a problem that has surfaced in some stem cell research, but there has been no evidence of tumors in the mouse studies, even up to a year after the cells were implanted.
He said the stem cell-derived beta cells could be ready for human research in three to five years. At that time, Millman expects the cells would be implanted under the skin of diabetes patients in a minimally invasive surgical procedure that would allow the beta cells access to a patient’s blood supply. The study has been publsihed in Nature Communications.