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Researchers Make Stem Cells That Secrete Insulin

Mouse study suggests it could help control diabetes in humans

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists have found a way to convert human embryonic stem (ES) cells into cells that release insulin in response to glucose and ease a diabetes-like condition in mice, a new study says.

Further research and development of this technique could lead to a renewable source of cells for treatment of people with diabetes, according to Emmanuel Baetge, of Novocell Inc., in San Diego, and colleagues, who published their work online in the current issue of Nature Biotechnology.

Type 1 and some forms of type 2 diabetes involve the loss of pancreatic beta cells, which regulate blood glucose (sugar) levels by releasing insulin, according to background information in a news release about the study.

In previous work, Baetge and the team were able to coax human ES cells part of the way toward becoming beta cells, but not far enough for them to carry out the key function of mature beta cells, which is the release of insulin in response to glucose.

In this new study, the researchers transplanted immature beta cells derived from human ES cells into mice whose beta cells had been destroyed by chemical treatment. After one to three months, the transplanted cells developed into glucose-responsive, insulin-secreting cells and helped control blood glucose levels in the mice.

Previous research demonstrated that transplantation of pancreatic beta cells (within islets) can help control diabetes in humans. But the therapy relies on cells from donor pancreases, meaning that the supply of such cells is limited. That's why scientists are trying to develop alternative sources of beta cells, such as those derived from human ES cells.

More information

The American Diabetes Association has more about islet transplantation.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Nature Biotechnology, news release, Feb. 20, 2008

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