Researchers have employed cloning techniques to produce personalised pancreatic beta cells.
The cloning technique is known as somatic cell nuclear transfer and was the same technique that was used to produce the full sheep clone, Dolly the sheep. The latest research breakthrough saw the researchers produce pancreatic beta cells genetically identical to those of a 32 year old woman who has had type 1 diabetes for over twenty years.
The technique involves implanting DNA from the nucleus of a skin cell into an unfertilised egg that has had its nucleus removed. An electric charge is applied which prompts the cell to divide. When the cell has divided into a few hundred cells, it is deemed a blastocyst and contains a number of cells which are pluripotent, meaning they can be developed into any cell of the body. In this case, the researchers were successful in producing beta cells.
Beta cells are the cells in the pancreas which are responsible for producing insulin. In type 1 diabetes, these cells are constantly under attack from the immune system and therefore people with type 1 diabetes typically have very few beta cells and can produce little, if any, of their own insulin.
Transplantation of beta cells, also known as islet cell transplantatio, has had a certain amount of success but two obstacles make perfect success difficult to achieve. The first is that donor cells are taken from other people and therefore rejection of the cells needs to be combated. The second problem is that the immune system, in type 1 diabetes, is still programmed to kill off insulin producing cells, therefore strong immunosuppressive drugs need to be taken to preserve the life of the donated cells.
The cloning technique addresses the first problem but the second problem, of the rogue immune system, still remains. The search for a cure is therefore a number of steps away.
On the positive side, there is conviction behind the search for a viable cure. The researchers behind the latest breakthrough, led by Dieter Egli, are working for the New York Stem Cell Foundation and the CEO of the NYSCF is Susan Solomo, who has been committed to finding a cure for type 1 diabetes since her son was diagnosed with the condition in 2005.

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