Progress On New Diabetes Treatment

Scientists at Gladstone Institutes have successfully converted human skin cells into functional pancreatic cells. These newly developed pancreatic cells, when transplanted, produced insulin in response to changes in glucose levels. As a result, the medical world has new hope that personalized cell therapy may be one step closer to becoming a reality for patients suffering with Diabetes.

The study, published in Nature Communications, revealed that when these cells were transplanted into mice, the animals were protected from developing the mouse form of diabetes. The study has also clearly represented ‘significant advancements in cellular reprogramming technology’, which will allow for the regulated mass production of these cells for use in the public sector – a feat which has never before been achievable.

Matthias Hebrok, PhD, director of the Diabetes Center at UCSF and a co-senior author on the study describes these achievements below:

“Our results demonstrate for the first time that human adult skin cells can be used to efficiently and rapidly generate functional pancreatic cells that behave similar to human beta cells. This finding opens up the opportunity for the analysis of patient-specific pancreatic beta cell properties and the optimization of cell therapy approaches.”

How The Diabetes Treatment Was Further Developed:

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The study explains that the scientists were successful as they used the following process to convert the cells:

They first used both pharmaceutical (artificially constructed) and genetic molecules to convert the skin cells into early development cells that are already programmed to mature into a specific kind of cell (endoderm progenitor cells) – in this case they would develop into pancreatic cells.

The fact that they did not reduce them to stem cells (which can develop into any kind of cell), but rather endoderm progenitor cells, is important as they could now transition them into fully fledged pancreatic cells faster.

They were then able to add four separate, new molecules which allowed these cells to multiply rapidly whilst still retaining their true form, with no mutations observed. This is important in the process of the mass creation of regulated pancreatic cells as a treatment to assist people with diabetes. If the cells were to mutate when they multiplied it would be very difficult to supply a correctly regulated form of the cells to the public and ensure that everyone was provided with the same quality of treatment.

The scientist then progressed the cells by two further steps, first into pancreatic precursor cells and finally into fully-functional pancreatic beta cells. The most important breakthrough of this study is the fact that these cells are able to produce insulin in response to a change in glucose levels – thus acting like an animal body’s original pancreatic cells.

“This study represents the first successful creation of human insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells using a direct cellular reprogramming method,” says first author Saiyong Zhu, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease. “The final step was the most unique—and the most difficult—as molecules had not previously been identified that could take reprogrammed cells the final step to functional pancreatic cells in a dish.”

Sheng Ding, PhD, a senior investigator in the Roddenberry Stem Cell Center at Gladstone and co-senior author on the study, adds, “This new cellular reprogramming and expansion paradigm is more sustainable and scalable than previous methods. Using this approach, cell production can be massively increased while maintaining quality control at multiple steps. This development ensures much greater regulation in the manufacturing process of new cells. Now we can generate virtually unlimited numbers of patient-matched insulin-producing pancreatic cells.”