Toronto: Stem cell transplant to treat type 1 diabetes may soon be a reality as researchers have discovered a faster way to convert stem cells into insulin-producing cells.

The new protocol can turn stem cells into reliable, insulin-producing cells in about six weeks, far quicker than the four months it took using previous methods, the findings showed.

Type 1 diabetes is the result of the body’s own immune system destroying insulin secreting pancreatic beta cells.

“We are a step closer to having an unlimited supply of insulin-producing cells to treat patients with Type 1 diabetes,” said Timothy Kieffer who led the research and is a professor at University of British Columbia in Canada.

The protocol transforms stem cells into insulin-secreting pancreatic cells via a cell-culture method. The conversion is completed after the cells are transplanted into a host.

“We have not yet made fully functional cells in a dish, but we are very close,” says Kieffer.

“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,” Kieffer added.

An important next step for the researchers is to determine how to prevent the insulin-producing cells’ from being rejected by the body.

Current treatment of type 1 diabetes requires daily insulin injections.

The study appeared in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

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