A team of researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have converted human stem cells into insulin-producing cells, controlling the blood sugar levels of laboratory mice. Within just nine months, the mice had been cured of diabetes, hinting that the procedure may be used in humans to cure diabetes.
Published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, the study shows promise in the treatment of chronic diabetes, especially in people with poorly controlled blood sugar levels. The findings of the study could pave the way for developing a novel therapy for treating type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
The use of human stem cells has shown promise in various fields in medicine. The current research was build up from a previous study, wherein the same researchers have found that they can convert human stem cells into pancreatic beta cells to produce insulin. The cells, when they encounter blood sugar, release insulin. In turn, it will control blood sugar levels, even when the patient has a faulty pancreas and a low supply of insulin.
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas allowing the body to use glucose or sugar from carbohydrates in the food or to store it for future use. It also maintains blood sugar levels in the body, preventing it from shooting up (hyperglycemia) or going too low (hypoglycemia).
In the current study, the researchers have shown a new method that can more effectively convert human stem cells into insulin-producing cells that can efficiently control blood sugar. The team found that fewer ‘off-target’ cells were produced, and the beta cells that were made had improved function.
The new method targets the cells’ internal scaffolding, dubbed as the cytoskeleton, which gives the cell its shape and allows the cell to interact with the environment.