In a paper in this months freely-available online global health journal PLoS Medicine Seung Kim and colleagues from Stanford University suggest that one way of producing insulin-secreting pancreatic islet cells for future possible treatment of type I diabetes is to look beyond immature pancreatic cells and embryonic stem cells to other early cell types. Kim and colleagues took cells derived from brain which usually mature into neural cells, and exposed them to a series of signals that are known to drive pancreatic islet development. They were able to produce clusters of insulin-producing cells that responded to glucose out of the body.
Insulin-producing neurospheres. (Photo: Seung Kim et al.)
When the cells were then transplanted into immunocompromised mice the cells could also be stimulated by glucose to produce human insulin. Future work will need to establish the long-term stability and safety of these cells and to work out how to scale up such a process to produce the much larger numbers of cells that would be needed for human treatment. However, the authors conclude that this technique "could serve as the basis for developing replacement islets from a wide range of human stem cells, including neural stem cells and ES cells."
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