Advancing one step closer to finding a major treatment or a cure for type 1 diabetes, researchers have for the first time successfully turned human stem cells into insulin-producing cells that the diabetic patients lack.

Team from University of California, San Francisco has recently claimed to turn human stem cells into mature, insulin-producing cells (or beta cells) that people suffering from type 1 diabetes don’t have, a step that makes them close to find a cure for the disease.

“We can now generate insulin-producing cells that look and act a lot like the pancreatic beta cells you and I have in our bodies,” said senior author Matthias Hebrok. “This is a critical step towards our goal of creating cells that could be transplanted into patients with diabetes.”

Type 1 diabetes occurs by a loss of insulin because of the immune system destroying cells in pancreas, hence the patients have to insert insulin manually.

For the research, scientists looked at how the cells that they produced developed in the pancreas where they separate from the rest of the organ and arrange themselves into protrusions called ‘pancreatic islets’, reported Science Alert.

The team then artificially separated the pancreatic stem cells to reorganize them into islet-like clusters they naturally form in the body. The arrangement allowed the cells to mature and function like regular insulin-producing cells do.

Also, when the cells were transplanted into healthy mice during experiments, the team discovered that the cells produced insulin in response to blood sugar levels within days.

However, since the study is still limited till mice-based lab experiments for now, it is difficult to say if it would be successful in humans or not. For now, the scientists are looking at if gene-editing CRISPR technology can be used to change the stem cells enough so that they won’t be destroyed by the immune system.

“We’re finally able to move forward on a number of different fronts that were previously closed to us. The possibilities seem endless,” Hebrok described publishing their study in Nature Cell Biology.



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