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Insulin-producing cells created by cloning

06 May 2014

By Dr Gabrielle Samuel

Appeared in BioNews 752

Researchers have transformed embryonic stem cells from a diabetic woman into insulin-producing beta cells, a study in Nature reports.

This is the first time that cloning has been used to create cells genetically matched to an adult and intended for therapeutic use.

'By reprogramming cells to a pluripotent state and making beta cells, we are now one step closer to being able to treat diabetic patients with their own insulin-producing cells', said Dr Dieter Egli, from the New York Stem Cell Foundation, who led the research.

Two teams have now created embryonic stem cell lines from adult human cells, reviving the debate about using stem cells from cloned human embryos for research or therapy.

In the latest study, the team replaced the nucleus of a donated human egg with a nucleus from the skin cell of a 32-year-old woman with type I diabetes, in a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). After being exposed to electronic pulses and chemicals, the cell began to divide in a similar way to a fertilised egg, forming a ball of a few hundred cells. From this blastocyst, scientists removed stem cells and transformed them into insulin-producing beta cells.

The approach could someday aid treatment of type 1 diabetes, where the body cannot make enough insulin.

'I think this is going to become reality', Dr Egli said. 'It may be a bit in the future but it is going to happen'.

'This is an important demonstration that SCNT works and can be used to model and perhaps one day treat disease', Professor George Daley from Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the research, told The Scientist.

In an interview with Nature News, Dr Robert Lanza, co-author on the first stem cell paper, pointed out that if treatment was tailor-made for each patient, an embryo would have to be discarded every time. As well as the ethical objections this would raise, the procedure would be time-consuming, costly and would be limited by the small number of eggs donated.

To make the process more efficient, the embryonic-like stem cells could be transformed into the final product in advance so heart cells or neurons, say, could be picked 'off the shelf' as needed, said Dr Lanza.

But extensive preclinical testing will be needed before the technique can be used therapeutically. The researchers are also working to determine how to prevent the immune systems of diabetic patients from attacking the insulin-producing stem cells.

The next step for the team is to transplant the insulin-producing cells into mice to see whether they grow into functioning human beta cells.

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE

18 April 2016 - by Paul Waldron 
Two new studies report the creation of functioning human beta cells, which can release insulin in response to changes in blood sugar, holding promise for the treatment of diabetes...
13 October 2014 - by Julianna Photopoulos 
Millions of insulin-producing beta cells have been manufactured in the laboratory using human stem cells by scientists at Harvard University...

28 April 2014 - by Sarah Pritchard 
Scientists have used a cloning technique to successfully create human embryonic stem cells from adult cells for the first time...
28 April 2014 - by Dr Lanay Griessner 
An advanced 3D skin model developed at King's College London (KCL) may reduce the need for animal models in cosmetic testing....
10 February 2014 - by Chris Hardy 
Stem cells have reversed the equivalent of type 1 diabetes in genetically modified mice. Using skin cells as a starting point, researchers formed pancreas precursor cells that produced insulin when injected into mice...
14 October 2013 - by Dr Greg Ball 
Large-scale production of liver and pancreas cells is becoming a possibility, as scientists have developed a cell culture method allowing stem cells to grow in the laboratory...

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