Posted on Feb 28, 2020, 3 p.m.
Human stem cells have successfully been converted into cells that are capable of producing insulin by a team of researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine; the insulin producing cells were able to control blood sugar levels in experiments with diabetic mice.
“These mice had very severe diabetes with blood sugar readings of more than 500 milligrams per deciliter of blood — levels that could be fatal for a person — and when we gave the mice the insulin-secreting cells, within two weeks their blood glucose levels had returned to normal and stayed that way for many months,” lead researcher Jeffrey Millman, assistant professor at Washington University, said in a statement.
The research was described in the journal Nature Biotechnology and it builds upon previous work in which the researchers developed the insulin producing cells out of human stem cells but were not able to demonstrate effectiveness in animal models until now.
“The more off-target cells you get, the less therapeutically relevant cells you have,” Millman said. “You need about a billion beta cells to cure a person of diabetes. But if a quarter of the cells you make are actually liver cells or other pancreas cells, instead of needing a billion cells, you’ll need 1.25 billion cells.”
According to Millman this approach is fundamentally different and far more on target, improving both effectiveness and maximizing the number of insulin producing cells, and some of the animals remained in a cure state for over a year.
It will be a long time before this will be ready for human use as the process will have to be scaled up over a long period of time. The goal of this work is to eventually develop an automated way to produce enough cells to allow humans to control diabetes on their own in the future.
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