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

ing them into beta cells, then coalescing them into islets or groups of beta cells to transplant into patients.

Currently, some diabetics are treated with islets taken from human cadavers, but it takes two cadavers to provide enough cells for one patient. Another option would be to convert liver cells into beta cells.

"One present treatment for some diabetics is to transplant islets into the liver, so we know that liver cells are a reasonable home for beta cells," Melton said. "If we're lucky, in two to five years, we can think about doing that in people."

It's unclear at this point, however, if three genes will be enough to accomplish this feat, given that liver cells are more distantly related to beta cells than are exocrine cells.

Researchers are reluctant to inject directly into the pancreas, a "touchy" organ, Melton said. "If we physically inject something into the pancreas, it almost always induces pancreatitis," he said. "You could be causing more trouble than what you started with."

Melton stressed that it is still imperative to continue research into highly controversial embryonic stem cells as well as induced pluripotent stem cells.

"Maybe when the history of the whole subject is written, it will be possible to say which was the best idea," he said. "I can't emphasize enough at this point that we're too ignorant to know what is the best way to treat patients and, until we know that, it is essential that we use embryonic stem cells and iPS cells to teach us about the mechanisms of disease. Until we know how to succeed, we have to aggressively pursue all avenues."

It is hoped that whatever avenue finally succeeds will be able to generate treatments or cures for a variety of diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases and cardiovascular disease.

More information

The National Institutes of Health<
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