Mice Cured of Diabetes through New Human Stem Cell Therapy

This new strategy converts human stem cells into insulin-producing ones.
Fabienne Lang
Clusters of insulin-producing betacells, which cured the mice of their diabetesMillman Laboratory

Diabetes is a worldwide chronic disease that in the U.S. alone affects just under 30 million people, and that's not even counting those that are unaware of their condition. 

Those with diabetes struggle with producing or managing insulin levels in their bodies. Now, a new strategy developed by scientists from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has effectively cured mice injected with diabetes. 

Their study was published in Nature Biotechnology on Monday.


How does it work?

The new therapy works by implanting cells directly into the mice so that they secrete the hormone that helps produce and balance insulin. 

Lead author of the study, Jeffrey Millman, said "These mice had very severe diabetes with blood sugar readings of more than 500 milligrams per deciliter of blood — levels that could be fatal for a person — and when we gave the mice the insulin-secreting cells, within two weeks their blood glucose levels had returned to normal and stayed that way for many months." 

If all works well in the human body, insulin is produced by beta cells in the pancreas, however, those who have diabetes don't produce enough of the hormone. The most common way of managing the condition is through regularly injecting insulin into the bloodstream. More recently, researchers have been working on ways to convert human stem cells into beta cells. 

Millman's team at Washington University has now worked on improving this second technique. The team has managed to reduce the number of unwanted cells, making the conversion cells very specific and target-oriented. The team ultimately managed to create a higher percentage of beta cells that also worked more efficiently. 

As Millman explained himself "Previously, we would identify various proteins and factors and sprinkle them on the cells to see what would happen. As we have better understood the signals, we’ve been able to make that process less random."

When these "new" beta cells were injected into the diabetic mice, their blood sugar levels stabilized, and they were "functionally cured" of diabetes for nine months

The ultimate goal is to see if this treatment also works on humans, as this method has so far only been tried on mice. The next stages of the study involve trials on larger animals for longer periods of time, with the hope of one day having a treatment ready for a human clinical trial.

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