Scientists reprogram skin cells into insulin-producing pancreas cells.
A cure for type 1 diabetes has long eluded even the top experts. Not because they do not know what must be done—but because the tools did not exist to do it. But now scientists in the laboratory of Gladstone Institutes’ investigator Sheng Ding, M.D., Ph.D., harnessing the power of regenerative medicine, have developed a technique in animal models that could replenish the very cells destroyed by the disease. The team’s findings, published online today (Feb. 6) in the journal Cell Stem Cell, are an important step towards freeing patients from the life-long injections that characterize this devastating disease.
Type 1 diabetes, which usually manifests during childhood, is caused by the destruction of beta-cells (ß-cells). ß-cells are a type of cell that normally resides in the pancreas and produces a hormone called insulin. Without insulin, the body’s organs have difficulty absorbing sugars, such as glucose, from the blood. Once a death sentence, the disease can now be managed with regular glucose monitoring and insulin injections. A more permanent solution, however, would be to replace the missing ß-cells. But these cells are hard to come by, so researchers have looked towards stem cell technology as a way to make them.
“The power of regenerative medicine is that it can potentially provide an unlimited source of functional, insulin-producing ß-cells that can then be transplanted into the patient,” said Ding, who is also a professor at UC San Francisco, with which Gladstone is affiliated. “But previous attempts to produce large quantities of healthy ß-cells — and to develop a workable delivery system — have not been entirely successful. So we took a somewhat different approach.”