Page URL:

Adult cell reprogramming helps treat diabetes in mice

1 September 2008
Appeared in BioNews 473

Researchers at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in Boston, USA, have successfully transformed one type of adult cell in to another cell type in live mice, according to a study published in the journal Nature. The cells created were insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas - the cells that are destroyed in people suffering from diabetes - raising the prospect that the research may lead to the development of better therapies, not only for diabetes, but for a wide range of degenerative disorders such as cardiovascular or neurodegenerative diseases.

The researchers found that when the procedure was performed in mice that have had all their beta cells destroyed in order to mimic diabetes, it restored their ability to produce insulin. 'It didn't cure the [mice], but they were able to reduce their blood sugar levels to near-normal' said Professor Douglas Melton, who led the study. He added: 'now that it's shown that you can turn one of your cells into another, it makes you think of what other cells you'd like to convert'.

The goal of regenerative medicine is to create a supply of cells to replace those that are lost or have become dysfunctional through accident or disease. It has been a rapidly growing field since scientists were first able to isolate embryonic stem cells (ES cell) and grow them in a laboratory. ES cells have the unique ability to divide indefinitely and develop into any cell type in the body. Adult cells, by contrast, cannot replicate forever and have previously been believed to be committed to their specific cell type.

However, the Harvard team have shown that it is possible to reprogram an adult cell so that it converts to a different cell type. They used genetically-engineered viruses to deliver three key genes to the so-called 'exocrine' cells, which make up 95 per cent of the pancreas and produce enzymes needed for food digestion. The genes, which have the ability to turn other genes on or off thus acting as 'maser controllers, prompted the endocrine cells to change their appearance and function, to look more like beta cells and, more importantly, to produce insulin instead of digestion enzymes.

The technique was based on one used to convert adult cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), which have similar properties to ES cells. It is an important advancement as it achieves 'one-step cell-type conversion', rather than taking the cells back to an embryonic state and then persuading to form the required cell type. Further research will be needed to establish why the converted beta cells do not form islets (the insulin-producing structures in the pancreas) like true beta cells, and to apply the technique to human cells.

Going From One Cell Type to Another Without Using Stem Cells
Wired Science |  27 August 2008
Researchers Report Advances in Cell Conversion Technique
The New York Times |  27 August 2008
Scientists Reprogram Adult Cells' Function
The Washington Post |  27 August 2008
Treatment could mean diabetics produce their own insulin
The Daily Telegraph |  27 August 2008
5 March 2012 - by Dr Kimberley Bryon-Dodd 
A chemical that causes bad breath may help convert stem cells into liver cells, according to scientists in Japan...
20 April 2009 - by Rose Palmer 
A pioneering stem cell transplant has enabled patients with Type One diabetes to go without insulin injections for up to four years. Researchers from Northwestern University in the US and the Regional Blood Centre in Brazil treated a total of 23 patients and found that the majority...
14 April 2008 - by Evelyn Harvey 
Nerve tissue derived from stem cells made from reprogrammed skin developed into normal brain tissue and relieved symptoms of Parkinson's disease in rats, in a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS) last week. Scientists at the Whitehead...
19 February 2008 - by MacKenna Roberts 
Japanese researchers announced last week that they have advanced their understanding and ability to safely 'reprogramme' adult stem cells to resemble embryonic stem (ES) cells without inducing tumours or harmful genetic abnormalities. The Japanese team of researchers, lead by Dr Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University, reprogrammed liver...
4 February 2008 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
US President Bush has used his final State of the Union address to call on Congress to introduce legislation to ban human cloning and to also provide additional funding for 'ethical' stem cell research. 'On matters of science and life, we must trust in the innovative spirit...
14 January 2008 - by Katy Sinclair 
The Japanese scientist whose team was responsible for the breakthrough that enabled human skin cells to be reprogrammed to behave like stem cells, Shinya Yamanaka from Kyoto University, has estimated that stem cell treatments for some diseases could be as little as a decade away. Stem cells...
3 December 2007 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
Last week's announcement that two teams of researchers, led by Dr Shinya Yamanaka at Japan's Kyoto University and Professor James Thompson at the University of Wisconsin in the US, had managed to 'reprogram' human skin cells into what they term induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells has re-ignited...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.