Researchers have found a genetic way to induce gut cells to produce insulin.
Researchers from the University of Columbia used a form of cell, similar to stem cells, called progenitor cells to produce a result which surprised even the researchers. Progenitor cells are adaptable cells that can take on a number of different properties, however, unlike stem cells, they cannot divide indefinitely.
The researchers working on the cells, knocked out a specific gene, called Foxo1 from gastrointestinal cells in mice. The astonishing finding was that when the Foxo1 gene was switched off, the progenitor cells were able to produce insulin in such a way that responded appropriately to meals. The fact that the cells were able to regulate blood sugar levels is a leap forward in understanding. Previously, stem cells had been able to produce insulin but not in an appropriate fashio, which made hypoglycemia a risk.
The question is raised whether gut cells which produce insulin may be able to withstand the autoimmune response that is characteristic of type 1 diabetes. If the gut cells were protected from being targeted by the immune system, it could potentially point towards a future cure for this type of diabetes.

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