Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh have discovered new ways to grow human beta cells in the laboratory. The researchers were able to induce the cells to divide and, notably, to stop the cells from dividing as well.
The cell division was achieved by adding the genes ‘cdk’ and ‘cyclin d’ into the beta cells. The way the genes were introduced into the beta cells was via a virus which was able to penetrate into the cells and deliver the genes.
Beta cells are usually very slow to divide within the body which is one reason why type 1 diabetes is able to develop very quickly. Type 1 diabetes begins when the body’s immune system attacks its own insulin producing beta cells. Within a period of weeks, someone with type 1 diabetes will have lost sufficient beta cells to require insulin injections to keep blood sugar levels even.
Previously, beta cells have only been available from human or animal donors. This has meant that beta cells have been in short supply even for research purposes. Production of beta cells from the new method described could open doors for more research into beta cells to be possible. The research led by Professor Andrew Stewart was funded by the JDRF.

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