Diabetics: help through reprogrammed skin cells

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Stem cell research: New therapy could make insulin injections superfluous in the future

US researchers have succeeded in reprogramming skin cells in mice into insulin-producing cells of the pancreas using a simplified process. The scientists are hoping that one day this will be used to treat type 1 diabetes.

Reprogrammed skin cells into insulin-producing cells US researchers have used a simplified process to convert skin cells in mice into insulin-producing cells. The team led by Sheng Ding from the University of California in San Francisco avoided the step of rejuvenating the cells to pluripotent stem cells (from which any cell type can arise), thus avoiding the associated tumor risk. Scientists are hoping that this will one day cure type 1 diabetes. They presented their work a few days ago in the journal "Cell Stem Cell".

Around 300,000 Germans with type 1 diabetes
Congenital diabetes (type 1) is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas through an inflammatory reaction (insulitis). As a result, there is an increasing insulin deficiency, which leads to a lack of substrate in the cells, an increase in blood sugar levels, acidification of the blood, loss of water and nutrients, and rapid weight loss. If the person receives no treatment, a life-threatening clinical picture can develop, the ketoacidotic coma. The involvement of many factors is discussed as the cause of the disease, which are genetically determined by environmental factors. Around 300,000 Germans currently suffer from type 1 diabetes.

Affected people must inject life-long insulin To control blood sugar levels, people usually need to inject life-time insulin. It would therefore be much better if the patients were able to produce insulin on their own again, using their own cells without the risk of a rejection reaction. With a chemical cocktail, the California scientists did not rejuvenate certain skin cells (fibroblasts) in mice not to the pluripotent basic stage, but only to a cell level from which various organs can grow, including the pancreas.

Modified cells used in diabetic mice In a communication from the university, first author Ke Li is quoted: "With another chemical cocktail, we transformed these endoderm-like cells into cells that resemble early pancreas-like cells." It also said: "At the beginning we wanted to see whether we can allow these PPLCs (pancreatic progenitor-like cells; pancreatic precursor-like cells) to mature into cells that, like beta cells, react to chemical signals and - above all - form insulin. Our initial experiments in the Petri dish showed that it worked. ”The researchers then used these modified cells in a second step in diabetic mice. Li said the animals' glucose levels dropped after a week and when the scientists removed the cells, the blood sugar level rose again.

The procedure could serve as therapy one day. Eight weeks after the transplant, studies showed that the PPLCs produced functional beta cells that produced insulin. The researchers believe that this is proof that such a procedure could in principle serve as a therapy one day. Heiko Lickert from the Institute for Diabetes and Regeneration Research at the Helmholtz Zentrum München explained that the method shows that pluripotent stem cells and the associated tumor risk can be avoided by reprogramming fibroblasts into beta cells: “The researchers do not go all the way back to pluripotency, but only to endoderm-like cells. ”The study shows that it can be used to obtain functioning beta cells,“ however, the efficiency of beta cell differentiation is low - still, ”says Lickert. The Institute for Diabetes and Regeneration Research at the Helmholtz Zentrum München is involved with eight other project partners in the recently launched European research project HumEn, which is intended to promote the production of insulin-producing beta cells from stem cells. (ad)

Image: Jörg Brinckheger / pixelio.de

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Video: Diabetes: How Stem Cells Offer Hope. Dr. Ashleigh Boyd. TEDxUCLWomen

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