But overall, Dominguez-Bendala said, "this [research] presents two major advantages over embryonic stem cells. First, by having this 'intermediate' population, we are restricting the differentiation options of the stem cells. For applications such as liver diseases or diabetes, these cells will readily become [liver cells] or beta cells, without unwanted byproducts such as [nerve or heart cells]." And second and more importantly, he said, they don't pose the risk of forming tumors.
"If independently confirmed, this approach could certainly be of great potential to design safer and more efficient differentiation protocols for the treatment of diabetes and liver diseases, among other conditions," Dominguez-Bendala added.
Albert Hwa, scientific program manager of cure therapies at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, called the new research "very interesting and encouraging because they don't see teratomas." He also agreed that the functionality of the beta cell could be further optimized.
"This was a first try with this protocol. The function of these cells seems very promising as well," said Hwa.
Hwa also said the findings need to be replicated, but that he could see such stem cells being used for disease modeling.
However, Hwa added, a therapy for type 1 diabetes from this stem cell line is less likely "until we can look at this process consistently in a large scale. For the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration], you have to show data that you can consistently produce the same product."
Results of the study are published in the April 6 issue of the journal Cell/Stem Cell.
Learn more about stem cells from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
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