Stem cells derived from patients with diabetes provide a new model for studying the disease
Source: “Generation of pluripotent stem cells from patients with type 1 diabetes”
Douglas A. Melton et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106: 15768-15773
Results: Scientists collected cells from patients with type 1 diabetes and turned them into induced pluripotent stem cells, adult stem cells with an embryonic cell’s capacity to differentiate into many different cell types. Then they stimulated these cells to differentiate into insulin-producing pancreatic cells.
Why it matters: The stem cells carry the same genetic vulnerabilities that led the patients to develop diabetes. Watching them develop into insulin-producing cells should shed light on the development and progression of diabetes. Researchers may also be able to test new treatments on the developing cells.
Methods: Researchers “reprogrammed” skin cells from two diabetes patients by using a virus to insert three genes involved in normal development. The new genes caused other genes to turn on and off in a pattern more typical of embryonic cells, returning the skin cells to an earlier developmental stage. The scientists then exposed the cells to a series of chemicals, encouraging them to differentiate into insulin-producing cells.
Next steps: The researchers will examine the interaction between the different cell types affected by diabetes: the pancreatic beta cells and the immune cells that attack them. Initially they will study these interactions in a test tube, but ultimately they hope to incorporate the lab-generated human stem cells into mice. This will help scientists understand which cells are affected first. Armed with that knowledge, they could begin developing treatments that involve replacing some of those cells.