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Pancreatic Cells Turned Into Insulin-Producing Beta Cells
Date:8/27/2008

Researchers say feat could lead to treatment for diabetes

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists have succeeded in transforming pancreatic cells from adult mice into insulin-producing beta cells, a feat they call an "extreme makeover."

The achievement is a step toward finding a treatment or even a cure for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, both of which involve problems with either insulin production or uptake.

The process, reported online Aug. 27 in Nature, bypassed some of the steps usually required in this type of procedure.

"The presently accepted regenerative medicine idea is that you make a stem cell from a patient, bring it back to the beginning as it were, then you are left with the problem of how to instruct that cell to become a beta cell or a motor neuron," explained study author Douglas Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, at a Tuesday teleconference. "We asked the simple question, why should you have to go all the way back to the beginning? Could you go from one cell type to another?"

"Up to this time, we hadn't demonstrated that you could do direct reprogramming," added Melton, who admitted to being "obsessed" with finding a cure for type 1 diabetes.

Here, Melton and his colleagues converted exocrine cells of the pancreas into neighboring endocrine cells. The process involved injecting three transcription factors -- genes which encode proteins that turn on and off other sets of genes -- into the pancreases of adult mice.

The process was surprisingly efficient, with some 20 percent of cells that received the three genes converting into beta cells.

Although these cells did ease hyperglycemia in diabetic mice, they did not respond to glucose, meaning there is still a way to go before finding a treatment or cure for the disorder.

Next, scientists are faced with the not insubstantial task of taking human cells, reprogramm
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