Researchers Find a New Way to Study Different Types of Diabetes

iPSC-derived beta cells model diabetes due to glucokinase deficiency. By Haiqing Hua and colleagues. The Journal of Clinical Investigation, July 2013, pages 3146-3153

What is the problem and what is known about it so far?

MODY diabetes (maturity-onset diabetes of the young) is caused by a single gene mutation. People with MODY2 have a mutation in the gene that encodes a protein called glucokinase, which acts as a glucose sensor in the insulin-producing beta cells. Without normal glucokinase, insulin production fails, causing diabetes.

Why did the researchers do this particular study?

Little is known about the cell biology of beta cells that lack functional glucokinase because it’s impossible to extract beta cells from living people to study under a microscope. The researchers wanted to learn about how these cells work, in hopes of developing methods to restore normal glucose metabolism.

Who was studied?

The study included two subjects with MODY 2 and one healthy participant, all of whom provided skin cells from their upper arms.

How was the study done?

The researchers grew cells from the participant’s skin biopsies in the lab and converted the cells into stem cells, which can develop into other cell types. Next the researchers added a variety of chemicals to the cultures that directed the stem cells to change into beta cells. The researchers then analyzed the beta cells to determine if they maintained MODY2-like features.

What did the researchers find?

The beta cells created from the stem cells released insulin normally in response to arginine and other chemicals known to encourage insulin production. Also, the beta cells required higher than normal glucose levels to stimulate insulin production, suggesting that they were indeed similar to the beta cells that are inside the pancreases of people with MODY2 diabetes.

What were the limitations of the study?

The researchers were not able to determine whether glucokinase is involved in the abnormal response to glucose observed in the laboratory-produced beta cells.

What are the implications of the study?

This study suggests that it may be possible to study different types of diabetes by looking at beta cells created from the cells of people with diabetes.

  • Last Reviewed: September 13, 2013
  • Last Edited: January 12, 2014

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