A study published in nature biotechnology has developed a more efficient way of converting stem cells into insulin-producing cells. This method allowed researchers to functionally cure diabetes in mice for up to 9 months.
In type 1 diabetes, the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas are attacked by the body’s own immune system. One approach to cure type 1 diabetes is to implant new beta cells derived from stem cells. However, the process of transforming stem cells into beta cells is not fully efficient: some cells differentiate into other unwanted types, reducing the effectiveness of treatment.
To tackle this problem, researchers developed a new technique, which involved targeting components of the cytoskeleton – the network of filaments that gives a cell its shape.
It’s a completely different approach […]. Previously, we would identify various proteins and factors and sprinkle them on the cells to see what would happen. As we have better understood the signals, we’ve been able to make that process less random.Jeffrey Millman, Washington University
Mice with diabetes “functionally cured” using new stem cell therapy. (2020). Retrieved 25 February 2020, from https://newatlas.com/medical/diabetes-functional-cure-stem-cell-therapy/
Implanting these cells into diabetic mice restored their blood glucose to normal levels for nine months. While nine months is a significant period relative to the lifespan of a mouse, there is no guarantee that this will translate to an equivalent effect in humans, if at all. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see our improved understanding of cell signalling lead to better stem cell protocols.
Targeting the cytoskeleton to direct pancreatic differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41587-020-0430-6
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