Diabetics could in future be free from insulin

January 10, 2016

In a study conducted at Gladstone Institutes and the University of California in San Francisco and published in Nature Communications, Scientists have created insulin-producing pancreatic cells for diabetes treatment which means diabetics could soon be free from daily insulin injections. The new diabetes treatment will turn skin cells into healthy pancreatic cells which can be used to replace the cells damaged by type 1 diabetes. The procedure would spell an end to insulin injections as the patient’s body would be able to regulate insulin levels on its own.Scientists developed cells to produce insulin in response to changes in glucose levels and, when transplanted into mice, found they successfully protected the animals from developing diabetes. The study used advanced cellular reprogramming technology, allowing scientists to scale up pancreatic cell production and manufacture trillions of the target cells.Foremost author of the study, Saiyong Zhu, PhD, said: “This study represents the first successful creation of human insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells using a direct cellular reprogramming method. “The final step was the most unique – and the most difficult – as molecules had not previously been identified that could take reprogrammed cells the final step to functional pancreatic cells in a dish.”

Scientists used human skin cells taken from foreskins, and tested a variety of procedures to transform them into cells similar to those found in the pancreas, which produce insulin.Several processes were required to convert the cells, including but not limited to reprogramming the cells genetically, using growth factors and chemical compounds and changed from skin cells to cells similar to early development gut cells.The scientists then cultured the cells to grow more of them and used more chemical compounds to promote their growth into pancreatic cells.Resulting cells were tested in the laboratory to see if they could produce insulin when stimulated with glucose. After this, the cells were transplanted into the kidneys of laboratory mice to see whether they could produce insulin.Cells were then tested to see whether this was at sufficient levels to stop the mice becoming diabetic after they received treatment to prevent them producing insulin naturally.Ultimately, the mice had the kidney containing the cells removed to see what happened to their insulin levels. The scientists say they were able to produce a plentiful supply of working pancreatic cells that made insulin in the laboratory.The cells also stopped laboratory mice getting diabetes after they received treatment to prevent them making insulin naturally.

Once the mice had the kidney containing the modified cells removed, they quickly became diabetic. Mice injected with cells that had not been treated to become pancreatic-type cells were not protected against diabetes.The researchers say that, “Our studies represent one of the few examples of human cell types generated through cellular reprogramming that could protect against or even cure an existing disease.” But they went on to say their cell cultures do not represent all the cells usually found in the insulin-producing structures of the human pancreas, and more research is needed to create a diabetes treatment. Matthias Hebrok, PhD, director of the UCSF diabetes centre, said: “Our results demonstrate for the first time that human adult skin cells can be used to efficiently and rapidly generate functional pancreatic cells that behave similar to human beta cells.”This finding opens up the opportunity for the analysis of patient-specific pancreatic beta cell properties and the optimisation of cell therapy approaches.”Scientists have been working towards an end to insulin injections for diabetes for decades now, and none of the promised treatments have yet achieved that goal.Overall, this laboratory research used modified mice and human skin cells and personally I think it is at a very early stage, and not at the point where we can draw conclusions about possible treatments for humans and its good to be cautious.

Contador Harrison