Researchers at the Harvard University’s Stem Cell Institute have engineered stem cells to become insulin producing cells, potentially providing an important source of pancreatic cells for the development of more effective treatment alternatives for millions of diabetics around the world. The technique increased insulin-producing cell yield from 30% to 80% by targeting the production of a specific protein utilized by insulin-producing beta cells. This enabled the researchers to concentrate the stem cells and yield more beta cells that can then be transplanted into diabetic individuals. Additionally, the concentration of cells should allow researchers to use smaller and less invasive devices to deliver the therapeutic cells in clinically relevant numbers.
Researchers at University of California San Francisco (UCSF) have created insulin producing cells in vitro that successfully produced insulin in vivo for Type I Diabetes patients. Type I diabetics experience an autoimmune disorder which attacks and destroys the body’s insulin-producing beta cells. These patients have to take continuous insulin injections and closely and constantly monitor their blood sugar levels, since extremely high or low blood sugar levels cause diabetic ketoacidosis or hyperglycemic shock, leading to coma and death. Though diabetes is currently manageable, patients must be constantly vigilant since their bodies’ inability to regulate blood sugar often leads to other systemic diseases such as blood vessel damage, neuropathy and nephropathy, just to name a few. The study from USCF involved directing human pancreatic stem cells to become insulin-producing islets cells in the lab. In an animal model, the cells were then implanted back into the body and were shown to produce insulin in response to blood sugar spikes. Additionally, the islets produced other essential hormones for blood sugar regulation, fully resembling normal pancreatic islets.
Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have been found to be effective in accelerating healing time for diabetics. In patients with diabetes, high blood sugar levels negatively impact circulation and impair the immune system’s ability to fight off infections at the site of wounds. In an animal study, adipose derived MSCs, proved to be effective at decreasing inflammation and increasing circulation around wounds. Previous studies have utilized MSCs recovered from bone marrow. This study demonstrates the potential of MSCs, which can be derived from multiple sources, including teeth, to treat the millions of diabetics around the world who suffer from this debilitating affliction.