"Once you take them out of their niche, the genes are primed and ready to go," he explained.
After removing the spermatogonial cells from the testes, the researchers put them into a special media. According to Gallicano, it's here that the cells are "chemically" instructed to develop into beta-like cells. In other research attempting to create insulin-producing cells, such as induced pluripotent stem cells, researchers must insert outside genes to get the cells to behave like stem cells. Such outside genes have the potential to lead to additional problems, such as creating cancer.
Once the cells were coaxed into becoming insulin-producing cells, the researchers transplanted them into the mice. The result: blood sugar levels in the mice were reduced for about a week, essentially curing the rodents' diabetes for a brief time, Gallicano said.
He said he hopes that by transplanting the cells into different areas of the body the researchers may be able to achieve longer blood sugar control.
The only side effect of concern, said Gallicano, is a certain type of tumor called a teratoma. But, he said, it appears with these cells it would take significantly more transplanted cells than would likely be needed before such a tumor might potentially be created.
Funding for the study came from the American Diabetes Association, Georgetown University Medical Center and private donors.
"This study is a positive step, but you still have a risk of teratomas, and the autoimmunity could destroy the new insulin-producing cells," said one expert, Dr. Camillo Riccordi, scientific director of the Diabetes Research Institut
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