Posted on Monday 17th November 2014
There has recently been a lot of publicity about advances in the production stem cells which can produce insulin. These stem cells can potentially be transplanted into people with type 1 diabetes thereby reducing the need for them to take insulin injections.
Scientists at Harvard University in the United States have recently found a way of producing large quantities of stem cells in a laboratory. This work has been published in a medical journal called Cell (F. W. Pagliuca et al. Cell 159, 428–439; 2014). These stem cells have been injected into diabetic mice where they immediately began to produce insulin in a relatively normal way.
This is an exciting development and, a significant advance in the ongoing research to try to make this a viable treatment for most people with type 1 diabetes. There is however still some way to go.
At the present time insulin producing cells can be transplanted into people with type 1 in the form of islet cell transplants. The problems with these transplants are mainly:
- they require patient to take quite powerful drugs to suppress the immune system to prevent the body rejecting the transplanted cells
- the islets have to be obtained from the pancreas glands of donors who have died and these are in limited supply
- the islets are often eventually rejected.
An unlimited supply of laboratory cultivated stem cells would obviously help a lot but more work needs to be done to find an effective way of preventing the body’s immune system rejecting these cells once they have been introduced into the body.