One is a shortage of donors; another is that the transplanted organ or cells frequently do not function well. After five years the patients often need a new transplant or have to self-inject insulin again.
The reason why Dr. Spagnoli intends to compare beta cells and hepatic cells is that the pancreas and the liver have a lot in common. "Both organs derive from the same region in the embryo, and both play an important role in metabolism and in blood glucose regulation," she explained. "Moreover, they share a number of genes."
Dr. Spagnoli wants to investigate whether beta cells and hepatic cells arise from a common bipotent progenitor cell. She hopes to identify the molecular signals that determine why one progenitor cell develops into a hepatic cell and another into a beta cell.
"We want to elucidate the factors that determine this difference," she said. Her approach is to start from this interface to see whether it is possible to reprogram adult hepatic cells to pancreatic beta cells so that they are able to produce insulin. By bypassing the use of embryonic stem cells for her investigation, she hopes to shorten and simplify the reprogramming process.
Dr. Spagnoli studied medicine and received her MD at La Sapienza University in Rome, Italy, and completed an additional doctorate in genetics and cell biology at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France.
Prior to coming to Berlin in 2008 to conduct her research at MDC, she worked in the laboratory of Professor Ali Hemmati-Brivanlou at Rockefeller University in New York, USA, one of the leading laboratories in the field of stem cell research and developmental biology.
|Contact: Barbara Bachtler|
Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres