In the current study, researchers from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University, obtained skin samples from two white males who had type 1 diabetes. One was diagnosed at 3 years of age, while the other was first diagnosed when he was 21.
Normal skin cells are already specialized cells. Their job is to protect the body with a covering of skin, explained Firpo. To transform these cells into embryonic-like stem cells, essentially getting them back to the beginning when they weren't already specialized, researcher Doug Melton and his colleagues used three inserted genes to reprogram the cells, creating what's known as an induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS). In this case, the cells were then turned into insulin-producing cells.
Along with helping to provide a model of type 1 diabetes, this technology might also one day be used to create islet cells for transplant from a person's own skin cells. That way, there would be no need for immunosuppressive medications.
However, because the current technique uses genetic manipulation to change the cell, Firpo said long-term safety issues would have to be addressed. Mouse cells that have been similarly manipulated have developed benign tumors, she said. So, using such cells for transplant is definitely not "a near-term thing," she stressed.
The practical implications from this study "are primarily research-related," said Julia Greenstein, director of beta cell replacement for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) in New York City.
She said that this study helps further at least two areas of research that JDRF is focusing on: developing a self-source for islet-cell transplants and blocking the immune response. Another area of research that JDRF is actively pursuing is the possible enca
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