A Significant Step Closer to Type 1 Diabetes Cure

Beta cells in the pancreas produce the sugar-regulating hormone insulin. Type 1 diabetes develops when these beta cells are destroyed.

Scientists have been working on a way to restore functioning beta cells to a type 1 diabetic’s pancreas, effectively freeing him or her from daily glucose monitoring and insulin injections.

A problem that researchers faced is the limited ability of mature beta cells to regenerate, making it difficult to produce large quantities of beta cells for transplantation to a pancreas. To remedy this, a research team at the Gladstone Institutes decided to work with an earlier, embryonic version of the beta cell.

Laboratory Magic

The scientists performed chemical magic on skin cells called fibroblasts, changing them into endoderm-like cells. Endoderm cells are plentiful in the early embryo and were chosen for the research because they are transformers—maturing into a variety of our body’s organs, including the pancreas.

The endoderm-like cells were also given a chemical bath, creating cells similar to early pancreas-like cells. The researchers dubbed these cells PPLCs.

“Our initial goal was to see whether we could coax these PPLCs to mature into cells that, like beta cells, respond to the correct chemical signals and - most importantly - secrete insulin,” explained researcher Ke Li, Ph.D., of the Gladstone Institute. “And our initial experiments, performed in a Petri dish, revealed that they did.”

From Petri Dish to Mice

The next step was to find out if the PPLCs produced insulin in animal subjects. The team transplanted PPLCs into a group of mice altered to have high glucose levels or hyperglycemia. Researchers were delighted to see the rodent’s glucose readings slowly approaching normal just seven days after transplantation.

The PPLCs' role in regulating the glucose was confirmed when the transplanted cells were removed from some of the mice. An immediate increase in their blood sugar was measured.

The research results grew even more encouraging with time. Eight weeks after transplanting PPLC’s into the mice, the pancreatic-like cells had given rise to fully functioning, insulin producing beta cells.

From Mice to Humans

The researchers are eager to apply their findings to the human body, and they are optimistic. Their study makes it clear that small molecules can potentially be used to reprogram organs at a cellular level.

“Most immediately, this technology in human cells could significantly advance our understanding of how inherent defects in beta cells result in diabetes, bringing us notably closer to a much-needed cure,” said researcher Matthias Hebrok, Ph.D., of the UCSF Diabetes Center.

Source: Medical News Today

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