stem cell

A new method involving stem cells has been developed that could lead to a pioneering type 1 diabetes treatment.

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis and Harvard University developed the method which uses a person’s own stem cells to produce new insulin-producing cells.

Type 1 diabetes causes the immune system to attack the cells of the pancreas which create insulin, leading to people with the condition having to inject insulin on a daily basis.

There have previously been fears that it would not be possible to produce this tissue from the stem cells of the patients themselves as there may have been defects that would stop the cells differentiating into beta cells correctly, the lead author, Dr Jeffrey Millman, explained.

It turns out, however, that this is not the case and that it is possible to create beta cells from the stem cells of someone with type 1 diabetes.

In theory, implanting beta cells beneath the skin of those with type 1 diabetes will allow insulin to be naturally manufactured in the body, removing the need for injections. However, long-term treatment would require a way to protect these implanted cells from the autoimmune system, otherwise they will be attacked and killed off again, leading to repeat implants becoming necessary.

Furthermore, there have been worries in the past that implanted beta cells of this kind could pose a cancer risk. However, after a year of testing, Millman said that there was no evidence to suggest that this was the case.

When tested on mice, the manufactured stem cells worked to produce insulin when they encountered high sugar levels.

The automatic “beta cells do a much better job controlling blood sugar than diabetic patients can” by themselves with glucose monitors and injections, according to Millman.

He added: “What we’re envisioning is an outpatient procedure in which some sort of device filled with the cells would be placed just beneath the skin.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.