Stem cells could deliver insulin to Type 1 diabetics

Courtesy of Millman Laboratory

A new study from Washington University has shown that stem cells programmed to act like insulin-secreting beta cells could give Type 1 diabetes patients the treatment they need.

Diabetics generally need to detect their blood glucose via a finger prick or a glucose monitor and administer the correct amount of insulin to correct the imbalance, a daily process. But with replacement beta cells, the disease can be much less harrowing and even reversed.

The scientists used human induced pluripotent stem cells, which can be differentiated to perform a multitude of functions. As Type 1 diabetics lose beta cells for reasons that are still unclear, according to the study, the transplantation can give them the ability to control their glucose levels in a more natural way.

The new cells express markers found in natural beta cells and are “functionally indistinguishable” from the beta cells in vitro and in vivo. The new cells could, beyond a clinical use, be studied to further understand Type 1 diabetes and its causes.

The Wash. U. researchers published their study in the journal Nature Communications.

This is not to say that the synthetic cells would be a permanent solution for diabetics, the scientists note, but that they do not demonstrate major differences from non-diabetic beta cells. The researchers wrote: “These experimental approaches could directly be used for discovery of novel compounds that increase function and prevent stress and death in (beta) cells.”

- here's the journal article (PDF)