Scientists identify pancreatic stem cells

Fri, 31 Aug 2012
Stem cells in the human pancreas have been identified for the first time, which could help scientists in their quest for a cure for type 1 diabetes .

Type 1 diabetes charity JDRF reported that researchers from the University of California in San Diego recently found cells in the pancreatic duct - the part of the organ that links the pancreas to the gut - that had a specific marker SSEA4 known as SSEA4 on their surface, which is only found in stem cells.

Stem cells are primitive cells that can be turned into other more specialised cells under the right conditions. In fact, when the cells were grown in a lab and given certain chemical signals, the scientists found that they no longer showed SSEA4 as they turned into specialised pancreatic cells, such as those that produce the blood sugar-regulating hormone insulin .

By identifying markers for pancreatic stem cells, scientists will find it easier in the future to extract the stem cells from a sample the contains many different cell types, which In turn will aid research programmes aimed at growing stem cells in the pancreas and developing ways to convert them into insulin-producing beta cells .

Commenting on the finding, Maebh Kelly, research communication officer at JDRF, said: "The identification of stem cells in the pancreas opens up new avenues for researchers trying to cure type 1. This study helps us understand how the pancreas makes new cells ."
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