A significant new step has been taken in using embryonic stem cells to treat diabetes. Recent research has shown the ability to produce functional pancreatic cells from human embryonic stem cells.
These pancreatic cells, called “glucose-responsive endocrine cells,” were shown to function in mice similar to the way in which healthy insulin producing pancreatic “beta-cells” work. Producing pancreatic beta-cells in humans from embryonic stem cells is the ultimate goal for this field of research.
Pancreatic beta-cells are responsible for producing insulin to compensate for sugar in the blood for healthy individuals, and Type 1 diabetics lack a sufficient amount of these cells. If research is able to generate pancreatic beta-cells using stem cells, new progressive treatment for type 1 diabetics would certainly be forthcoming.
Numerous tests were done on the mice, including killing their natural beta-cells. For the mice injected with the stem cells that simulated beta-cells in the body, these mice did not develop diabetes after having their natural beta-cells killed off. On the other hand, those not injected with the stem cells developed diabetes at a high rate after their natural beta cells were eliminated.
The research presented in this recent study is an early step, but a significant one, in treating diabetes with stem cells. The next step will be to produce mature beta-cells from stem cells, and most likely test them in mice. Eventually tests will be performed on human cells, which could lead to implementation of the research in main stream treatment.
Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Kroon, Evert. et al. Nature Biotechnology. “Pancreatic endoderm derived from human embryonic stem cells generates glucose-responsive insulin-secreting cells in vivo.” February 2008.