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Will Lab-Grown Insulin-Producing Cells be the Next Insulin Pill?

Reporter: Irina Robu, PhD

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas, typically in childhood. Starved of insulin’s ability to regulate glucose levels in the blood, spikes in blood sugar can cause serious organ damage and eventually death. Replacing insulin cells lost in patients with Type 1 diabetes, has been a goal in regenerative medicine, but until now researchers had not been able to figure out how to produce cells in a lab dish that work as they do in healthy adults.

Dr. Matthias Hebrok, director of Diabetes Center at UCSF published a study on Feb 1, 2019 in Nature Cell Biology looked into generating insulin-producing cells that look and act a lot like the pancreatic beta cell. Hebrok and colleagues replicated the physical process by which the cells separate from the rest of the pancreas and form the so-called islets of Langerhans in the lab.

When the researchers replicated that process in lab dishes by artificially separating partially differentiated pancreatic stem cells and reforming them into islet-like clusters, the cells’ development unexpectedly leap forward. Not only did the beta cells begin responding to blood sugar more like mature insulin-producing cells, but similarly appeared to develop in ways that had never been realized in a laboratory setting. The scientist then transplanted these lab-grown islets into healthy mice and found that that in a matter of days, they produce more insulin than the animals’ own islets.

In partnership with bioengineers, geneticists, and other colleagues at UCSF, Hebrok’s team is by now working to move regenerative therapies to reality by using CRISPR gene editing to make these cells transplantable into patients without the necessity for immune-suppressing drugs or by screening drugs that could reinstate proper islet function in patients with Type 1 diabetes by protecting and expanding the few remaining beta cells to restart pancreatic insulin production.

SOURCE
https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/functional-insulin-producing-cells-grown-lab?utm_source=fiat-lux

 

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