Introducing pancreatic genes into cells in the adult liver directs those cells to produce insulin and reverses diabetes in a mouse model of the disease, Lawrence Chan and colleagues report in the May issue of Nature Medicine.
Diabetes can result from abnormal control over blood glucose levels, which are regulated by insulin and other hormones produced by the pancreas. One approach to replacing damaged pancreatic cells has been to transplant cells from healthy individuals -- but the procedure is risky. Introducing genes that can redirect cells in the liver to become pancreatic-like cells is one alternative.
In their approach, the researchers inserted the two pancreatic genes into an adenovirus and introduced them into liver cells. Cells that resemble those in a normal pancreas then appeared in the liver. These cells produced insulin and other pancreatic hormones, normalizing levels of glucose in diabetic mice. Exactly how these genes deliver such a potent effect is still unclear. The technique may also have to be tested further before it can be applied in people.
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