The culture conditions under which human embryonic stem cells can be converted into cells that produce all five hormones made by the pancreas, including insulin, are reported online in Nature Biotechnology. Baetge and colleagues' study suggests that the possibility of turning human embryonic stem cells into pancreatic cells that can be used for diabetes therapy has moved one step closer to reality.
Human embryonic stem cells have the potential to become virtually any cell type in the body. Thus, they are a promising source of cells to repair damaged organs like the pancreas, heart and liver. The challenge facing scientists is to unlock the secrets of how to produce particular cell types, such as pancreatic beta-cells - the insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas - with high efficiency.
Baetge and colleagues show that the efficient generation of insulin-producing cells from human embryonic stem cells depends on guiding the cells through stages similar to those of pancreatic development, including the critical early developmental stage known as 'definitive endoderm.' The insulin-producing cells the authors created contained high levels of insulin. They were also capable of secreting insulin, but only minimally in response to sugar - a crucial function of adult beta-cells. Thus, the cells seem closer to immature, fetal beta-cells. The authors speculate that, with additional research, these cells have the potential to be matured into insulin-producing cells that could be suitable for transplantation into patients.
E Edward Baetge (Novocell Inc., San Diego, CA, USA)
Abstract available online.
(C) Nature Biotechnology press release.
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