Diabetes is a large and growing problem that causes serious concerns to patients and consumes enormous resources from the healthcare system. Although the condition can be well managed, the cure for the disease remains elusive. However, with the development of new stem cell technologies, this may change soon. Researchers from Harvard University have recently published encouraging data from their experiments aimed at finding the functional cure for type 1 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is different from the type 2 which is often associated with obesity and other lifestyle and environmental factors. Although type 1 diabetes is less common, it still affects around one to three million Americans. The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown. It is considered an autoimmune disease, which means that the body’s immune system attacks its own insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Over time, the number of these cells declines, leading to serious malfunctions in the regulation of blood sugar.
Stem cells can replace the lost insulin-producing cells in type 1 diabetes
The unique feature of stem cells is their ability, in proper conditions, to differentiate into any other type of cells in the body. The challenge is to find these right conditions. This is exactly what Harvard scientists reported in their paper published in the prestigious journal Cell. They found a perfect mix of chemicals that turns the stem cells of mice into insulin-producing beta-cells of the pancreas. Transplanting these cells into mice with type 1 diabetes restores the normal insulin-producing function of the pancreas, for a period of at least several months.
Unfortunately, the injected cells may get destroyed again by the immune system. And we still don’t know how this approach will work in humans. Nevertheless, this discovery is a large step forward towards the cure for diabetes.
Stem cell technology helps in restoring the insulin-producing function of the pancreas in mice with type 1 diabetes. The experiments on human subjects are currently in the planning stage.
- Felicia W. Pagliuca, Jeffrey R. Millman, Mads Gürtler et al. (9 October 2014) Generation of Functional Human Pancreatic ? Cells In Vitro. Cell 159, Issue 2, 428–439.