American scientists are one step closer to possibly curing type 1 diabetes.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have claimed that they are the first to turn human stem cells into the mature, insulin-producing cells that type 1 patients don’t have. They say the key was to acknowledge a reality in the development of islets, or clusters of healthy beta cells (which generate insulin) in the pancreas.
They separated partly differentiated pancreatic stem cells into islets, jumpstarting their development and leading to responses to blood sugar that more closely represented mature cells. Even alpha and delta cells grew more effectively, UCSF said.
“We can now generate insulin-producing cells that look and act a lot like the pancreatic beta cells you and I have in our bodies. This is a critical step towards our goal of creating cells that could be transplanted into patients with diabetes,” said Matthias Hebrok, director of the UCSF Diabetes Center.
The technique has only been tested in mice so far, but the results were positive. It took just a “matter of days” for implanted islets to produce insulin as well as the rodents’ native cells.
If the research continues to bear fruit it could offer a much more realistic solution for type 1 diabetes. Pancreas transplants can help, but they frequently fail and still require drugs that suppress your immune system. This breakthrough could lead to on-demand implants and make it relatively easy to gain (or regain) healthy insulin levels.