Researchers have converted human embryonic stem (ES) cells into cells that release insulin in response to glucose and alleviate a diabetes-like condition in mice. With further research and development, this approach, reported online in Nature Biotechnology, could lead to a renewable source of cells for the treatment of diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes and some forms of type 2 diabetes involve the loss of pancreatic 'beta' cells, which regulate blood glucose (sugar) levels by releasing insulin. In previous work, Emmanuel Baetge and colleagues described a method for driving human ES cells part of the way along the developmental path of the pancreas to becoming beta cells. The resulting cells could not carry out the key function of mature beta cells, which is to release insulin in response to glucose.
In their new study, Baetge's team shows that if immature pancreatic cells derived from human ES cells are transplanted into mice, in 1-3 months they will develop into glucose-responsive, insulin-secreting cells. These in vivo-matured cells are able to regulate the blood glucose levels of mice whose own beta cells have been destroyed by a chemical treatment - an animal model that mimics some forms of diabetes. The blood glucose control achieved is of similar effectiveness to that obtained by transplanted human islets.
The principle of treating diabetes by transplantation of pancreatic beta cells (within islets) has been demonstrated using the so-called Edmonton protocol. Thus far, this therapy has relied on cells from donor pancreases. Because the supply of such cells is very limited, there is great interest in developing alternative sources of beta cells, including cells derived from human ES cells.
Emmanuel Baetge (Novocell Inc, San Diego, CA, USA)
Abstract available online.
(C) Nature Biotechnology press release.
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