Lab development of beta cells one step closer

Wed, 12 Dec 2012
Scientists in the UK have made major progress with research into the development of insulin-producing beta cells using human stem cells, a process which could lead to a cure for type 1 diabetes .

According to the University of Cambridge researchers, human stem cells can multiply in the lab and have the potential to be turned in to an abundant supply of beta cells that could then be transplanted into patients with type 1 diabetes, whose beta cells are destroyed by an autoimmune attack on the pancreas .

Turning human stem cells into beta cells has proved difficult, but the scientists say they have now identified the specific signals needed to convert stem cells into pancreatic progenitor cells - the type of cell that eventually becomes a beta cell.

In a study, published earlier this month in the journal Diabetologia, they revealed that a molecule called Actin prevents stem cells from turning into pancreatic cells and instead helps them become liver cells . By blocking Actin, the team found that they could increase stem cell-to-pancreatic cell conversion.

"This study gives us more insight into the specific molecular processes that underpin the change from stem cells into pancreatic progenitor cells," said Maebh Kelly, Research Communication Officer at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).

"Studies like this are important as we will need to understand much more about how stem cells develop before they can be used in clinical studies."
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