New hope for stem cell approach to treating diabetes

Insulin-producing cells more responsive to fluctuating glucose levels Read More

From the WashU Newsroom

Scientists working to develop more effective treatments for diabetes are turning to stem cells. Such cells can be transformed into cells that produce insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar.

But there’s a major challenge: the amount of insulin produced by theses cells is difficult to control.

Now, by tweaking the recipe for coaxing human stem cells into insulin-secreting beta cells, a team of researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has shown that the resulting cells are more responsive to fluctuating glucose levels in the blood.

When they transplanted the beta cells into mice that could not make insulin, the new cells began secreting insulin within a few days, and they continued to control blood sugar in the animals for months.

The new study is published Jan. 17 in the journal Stem Cell Reports.

“We’ve been able to overcome a major weakness in the way these cells previously had been developed. The new insulin-producing cells react more quickly and appropriately when they encounter glucose,” said principal investigator Jeffrey R. Millman, assistant professor of medicine and of biomedical engineering. “The cells behave much more like beta cells in people who don’t have diabetes.”

The researchers now believe it may be time to evaluate whether the same stem-cell approach could produce insulin and effectively control blood sugar in people.

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Posted on January 17, 2019
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