Researchers have adjusted the technique for converting human stem cells into beta cells that produce insulin. They have shown that the resulting cells tend to be more responsive when it comes to fluctuating sugar blood levels.
Based on the research published in the Journal Stem Cells Reports, stem cells may be converted into cells that make insulin (the hormone which controls blood glucose.)
But, there is a big challenge – the amount of produced insulin by these cells is hard to control. The scientists at the Washington University in America transplanted the beta cells into mice that couldn’t produce insulin.
They came to the discovery that the new cells start secreting insulin within a couple of days and continue to control blood glucose in the mice for months.
An assistant professor at the Washington University by the name of Jeffrey R Millman talks on this topic. He said that they have been capable to overcome a significant weakness in this specific way the cells previously had been made.
The new cells that produce insulin react faster and more appropriately once they encounter sugar. He also added that the cells behave much more as beta cells in a human who doesn’t have diabetes.
Now the scientists think that it might be time to evaluate whether this stem-cell approach might make insulin and effectively control blood glucose in people.
Millan said that previously the beta cells people manufactured might secrete insulin in response to sugar, but they were more like fire hydrants either making no insulin or a lot of insulin.
The new cells are much more sensitive and produce insulin which better corresponds to the sugar levels. The laboratory of Jeffrey R Millman grew beta cells from human stem cells.
However, they made many changes to the so-called “recipe” for making beta cells that produce insulin.
The scientists treated the cells with various factors at various times as they developed and grew to help the cells to function and mature more effectively.
After it was done, the scientists transplanted the beta cells into the mice with diabetes with suppressed immunity so that they wouldn’t reject human cells.
The transplanted cells make insulin at levels that effectively controlled blood glucose in the mice, curing their diabetes for a few months which for most of the mice involved in the study it was about the length of their lives.
Jeffrey R Millman said that he could not say exactly when these cells might be ready for human trials. However, there are two other ways for these beta cells to be tested in humans.
He said that the first would be to encapsulate these cells in something as a gel with pores small to prevent immune cells from getting in but at the same time large enough to let the insulin get out.
Another way would be to use gene-editing tools in order to alter the genes of beta cells in different ways which would let them hide from immunity after implantation.
If these stem cell-derived beta cells prove to be effective and safe for those people who have diabetes, the method of manufacturing the cells fastly might be ramped up to an industrial scale.