Scientists at a biotechnology company called Novocell have reported a break through in the treatment of diabetes by using stem cell therapy to create insulin producing cells that were injected into mice.
The study, which were published online by the journal Nature Biotechnology, reported that researchers had produced insulin secreting cells through a complicated process that involved first turning the stem cells into endoderm cells in the lab. These endoderm cells, which are the building blocks of various other cells, were then injected into both diabetic and non-diabetic mice. In 92% of the mice, the endoderm cells developed into functional, insulin producing, islet cells, a very impressive success rate.
“There is something in the living organism that signals these cells to develop into islet cells” said Emmanuel Baetge, chief scientist at Novocell, “We’ve finally gotten to a point where we can say that we can make this function well and can now work on how this can be turned into a product,” Baetge added.
When a toxin was used to destroy the mice’s own islet cells, the mice continued to produce insulin from the implanted human cells and showed improved blood sugar levels compared to the mice who did not receive the implanted cells.
The researchers admit that there are still some issues that need to be ironed out before research is conducted in humans, for example 7 of the 105 mice in the study developed tumors known as teratomas. Baetge believes the tumor rate could’ve been reduced if the cells were purified prior to being implanted into the mice.
The study is encouraging because it brings the possibility of a source of clean, insulin-secreting cells that could be used by diabetic patients as a replacement for traditional diabetes treatments. Currently the only source of insulin producing cells for diabetics is from cadavers, however the supply of these is limited and the risk of contamination or infection is much higher than for cells produced in the lab.
Novocell hopes to bring the product to market in the immediate future but is currently looking for a corporate partner as they lack the required resources to develop, manufacture, and commercialize the product on a large scale.
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