Friday, 11 January 2013

New study on diabetes type 1&2 and the potential uses of hESCs

Diabetes mellitus type 1 and type 2 are two conditions both caused by a failure of pancreatic beta cells to produce adequate amounts of insulin, the hormone that regulates our blood sugar levels. One possible treatment could be the production of new beta cells from human embryonic stem cells. But there are many ways to achieve this and not much research is done on which method is more efficient. Yesterday, a team of researchers published a study on this matter. Their findings have the potential to greatly help in the development of future stem cell therapies for diabetes

The team, comprised of researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and from the company ViaCyte Inc. In their study, they compared two methods for producing endocrine cells from human embryonic stem cells:
  • Transplanting immature endocrine cell precursors into mice
  • Producing the cells in vitro in culture
The researchers found that the endocrine cells retrieved from mice were almost identical to natural endocrine cells found in the human body. Makie Sander, one of the key researchers said:

“We found that the endocrine cells retrieved from transplanted mice are remarkably similar to primary human endocrine cells. This shows that hESCs can differentiate into endocrine cells that are almost indistinguishable from their primary human counterparts.”

Computer generated image of six insulin molecules
Computer generated image of Insulin Molecules


On the other hand, the same doesn't apply for cells produced in vitro. The scientists found that the vast majority of these endocrine cells lacked the features that normal endocrine cells present with. They were unable to express the genes associated with normal endocrine activity and were unable to reverse diabetes in animal models. 

According to Sander, one possible treatment for diabetes would be to transplant endocrine precursor cells directly into humans and let the cells differentiate as they did on the mice experiment. However more research  is needed before moving to this level:

 “However, we don’t currently know whether the maturation process will occur in humans in the same way.”, said Sander

She also described another potential third option. That is to produce fully mature endocrine cells in the culture dish first and then transplant these cells to humans. But such a method has yet to be developed. Sander says that their study contains some findings that may be helpful for devising it. 

“This information will help devise protocols to generate functional insulin-producing beta cells in vitro,” said Sander

According to Sander, their study is very important not only for creating new stem cell treatments for type 1 and two diabetes but also for identifying the true causes that underlie behind the conditions themselves.


Diabetes mellitus type 1 (type 1 diabetes), is a type of diabetes mellitus caused from an autoimmune destruction of beta cells found in the pancreas. These cells produce insulin which in return regulated our sugar blood level. In the U.S. about 8 to 17 per 100,000  individuals are affected by the condition.

Diabetes mellitus type 2 (also known as adult-onset diabetes), is a metabolic disorder characterised by high blood glucose in the context of insulin resistance and relative insulin deficiency. It is caused by a combination of lifestyle and genetic factors.Almost 300 million people are affected by the condition

Video about the differences between diabetes type 1 and diabetes type 2

- The study will be available next month in the Cell Stem Cell journal..

- Mike Sander MD is a professor of pediatrics and cellular and molecular medicine. She also is director of University of California San Diego’s Paediatric Diabetes Research Centre. 

- ViaCyte, Inc., is a San Diego-based company specialising in the field of regenerative medicine.

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