Researchers have discovered a way to transform neural stem cells into insulin-producing cells, called islets—a discovery that could lead to a cure for diabetes.
The scientists hope to eventually be able to use these transformed cells to replace lost islet cells in the pancreas.
Stanford University researchers developed a specific combination of chemicals that prompted neural stem cells to mature into insulin-producing cells in a lab dish. These transformed cells were able to produce insulin and release it in response to sugar. The transformed stem cells do not perfectly mimic human islet cells—they still produce some proteins found in neurons and they make some, but not all, of the proteins normally produced by islet cells.
In the next phase of research, the cells were tested in mice. After four weeks, the cells had survived, continued to produce insulin, had not changed into other types of cells and had not formed tumors.
The amount of insulin produced by the cells was not enough to treat diabetes, but it was an important first step toward that goal, the researchers say.
"The more ways we discover to form insulin-producing cells from stem cells, the more likely it is that stem cells can be used for islet replacement," says study author Dr. Seung Kim, an assistant professor of developmental biology at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
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