Researchers find way to create stem cells for type 1 diabetes treatment

Fully developed adult cells may retain a "memory" of their past as pluripotent stem cells, which could potentially enable them to be re-engineered to serve multiple purposes, including treatments for type 1 diabetes, according to a new study out of Tel Aviv University.

Pluripotent stem cells have long been envisioned as a potential therapy for type 1 diabetes. It is believed that injecting them into the pancreas could cause them to develop into insulin-producing beta cells, replacing the cells that have been damaged or destroyed by the body's immune system.

However, there has been a significant amount of controversy surrounding this practice. Up until now, the only place researchers could obtain such pluripotent stem cells was from embryos, which raised ethical dilemmas.

The results of the current study may provide a way around these issues. The researchers reported in the journal Cell Stem Cell that pancreatic units contain information encoded in proteins that surround their DNA that provide instructions for the development of that cell. Even fully developed adult cells retain this information.

The team found that it is possible to take donor beta cells and create pluripotent stem cells from them. These cells can them be delivered to individuals with type 1 diabetes without the fear of rejection. Once the stem cells are in the recipient's pancreas, their memory of their past purpose causes them to develop into fully functioning beta cells.

In fact, the researchers said that their testing showed that stem cells derived from this process were actually more effective than embryonic stem cells.

"When generated from human beta cells, pluriponent stem cells maintain a 'memory' of their origins, in the proteins bound to their genes," said Professor Shimon Efrat, who led the investigation, adding that this is what makes them such a viable option.

The findings could help solve one of the greatest problems facing individuals with type 1 diabetes. Efrat said that many people with the condition opt to seek a transplant to replace damaged sections of their pancreas. However, there is a strong risk of rejection and far too few donors. There are generally 1,000 individuals with type 1 diabetes seeking a transplant for every one donor.

However, using stem cells in this method could alleviate much of this demand, making fully functioning organs available to more individuals with type 1 diabetes.
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