Ian Gallicano, PhD: Sperm Stem Cells Hold Promise for Type 1 Diabetes Treatment
By: Almas Eftekhari
New research suggests that men with type 1 diabetes may be capable of generating their own insulin-producing cells for transplantation. American Diabetes Association-funded researcher Ian Gallicano, PhD. and his postdoctoral fellow, Shenglin Chen, Ph.D., have created specialized, insulin-producing cells by biologically altering stem cells found inside the human testes. Injection of these cells into mice with insulin-dependent diabetes provided a one-week cure for the disease – a short-lived, but promising first step towards finding treatment in humans.
The Georgetown University researchers obtained samples of testicular tissue from deceased donors and then extracted the spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs), precursor cells that normally become sperm. When grown under special laboratory conditions, the SSCs transform to mimic the function of insulin-producing cells found inside the pancreas. “These cells behave a lot like beta-islet cells. They secrete insulin in response to glucose, and we were able to secrete insulin in mice models to reduce high blood sugar or glucose levels,” said Dr. Gallicano.
The temporary reversal of diabetes in mice indicates that men may be able to use their precursor sperm cells to grow their own insulin-secreting cells for transplant. The potential treatment could be more beneficial than current methods of transplant therapy. Harvesting cells from ‘self’ avoids the challenges recipients face today, such as limited availability of donors, or the risk of immune system rejection of ‘foreign’ donor tissue.
With their Mentor-Based Postdoctoral Fellowship Award, Dr. Gallicano and Dr. Chen continue to investigate ways of increasing the level of insulin secretion from SSCs to cure diabetes in humans. The researchers also aim to develop methods to optimize the delivery of the cells back into the body and to maximize their survival once transplanted. In future studies, Dr. Gallicano hopes to determine whether egg stem cells could provide similar results in women.
The preliminary findings were presented on December 12, 2010 at the American Society of Cell Biology 50th annual meeting in Philadelphia, PA.
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