A major grant has been awarded to a US researcher who will further investigate stem cell therapies for type 1 diabetes treatments.
Xiaojun “Lance” Lia, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Penn State University, is one of three recipients of the College of Engineering’s ENGineering for Innovation &Entrepreneurship (ENGINE) grant.
Now in its fifth year, ENGINE grants provide financial support to early-stage research results through a proof-of-concept phase.
Professor Lian and his team have already exploring making functional beta cells from stem cells. But there are hurdles, and transplanting beta cells does not always work.
One of the key issues is the lack of robust cell culture systems that enable stem cells to be differentiated into beta cells.
Prof Lian has developed a method which he believes may address this problem. He said: “Our new method is an improvement on previous growth-factor dependent methods, which use proteins to stimulate differentiation. This is due to small molecules being more stable, easy and cheap to manufacture, thus making stem cell differentiation more efficient and cost-effective.”
Lian and colleagues plan to use the grant money to recruit students to test the new differentiation kits, which will then be shipped to other researchers for further testing.
“Completion of this project will hopefully yield two stem-cell-differentiation kits, which would have immediate potential for broad commercial impact on the treatment of type 1 diabetes.”
A committee of internal and external experts in technology reviewed all applicants for the grant.
Earlier this year, scientists from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) made a breakthrough by turning stem cells into insulin-producing cells for the first time without the need for subsequent immunosuppressant drugs.

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