Maturation of Human Embryonic Stem Cell--Derived Pancreatic Progenitors into Functional Islets Capable of Treating Pre-existing Diabetes in Mice
Researchers turned human embryonic stem cells into insulin-producing pancreas cells in a test tube; transplanting these cells into diabetic mice taking immunosuppressants cured the rodents of diabetes, by Alireza Rezania and colleagues. Diabetes 61:2016–2029, 2012
What is the problem and what is known about it so far?
In people with type 1 diabetes, the immune system destroys the body’s own insulin-producing pancreatic cells (beta cells). Scientists have had some success in treating type 1 diabetes with beta cells derived from human donors, but donated tissues are in short supply.
Why did the researchers do this particular study?
Embryonic stem cells have the potential to become any type of cell in the body, from heart cells to brain cells. The researchers wanted to determine if and how they could turn embryonic stem cells into insulin-producing cells with the potential to treat type 1 diabetes, replacing the need for donated tissue.
Who was studied?
The researchers studied mice with deficient immune systems. A normal immune system would recognize the implanted cells as foreign and destroy them; this is why people who’ve received transplanted organs or tissue take anti-rejection medications to suppress their immune systems. The researchers treated the mice with a chemical that destroys pancreatic tissue and gives the rodents diabetes.
How was the study done?
The researchers purchased human embryonic stem cells and treated them with a variety of chemicals over 14 days to coax the cells into producing insulin. They then implanted the cells into mice with diabetes. The mice had previously been treated with insulin.
What did the researchers find?
Over the next three to four months, the implanted cells started producing insulin, allowing the mice to maintain normal blood glucose levels without receiving insulin from their caretakers.
What were the limitations of the study?
The study was done in mice, so it’s unclear whether the results would be duplicated in humans. For example, immunosuppression in humans is different from that in mice, which could affect the outcomes.
What are the implications of the study?
The researchers say that these results suggest that the cells they derived from stem cells could be an effective alternative to donated pancreatic cells for the treatment of type 1 diabetes.
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