Researchers in Denmark are working on developing a line of pure insulin-producing stem cells that could revolutionize the treatment of diabetes. Living cells that release insulin inside the body are of interest to scientists because they are directly responsive to alterations in the blood sugar level.
Diabetes Mellitus: An Overview
Diabetes mellitus is a condition in which the body cannot properly convert food to energy. The three primary types of diabetes are type 1, type 2, and gestational. In healthy individuals, the pancreas produces a hormone called insulin which breaks down carbohydrates and sugars in food into glucose. Glucose provides the energy that fuels cell activity in the body. Therefore, insulin is a key component in human physiology for sugar metabolism.
People with diabetes have insufficient insulin production or are unable to use the insulin that is produced or both. Because of the lack of insulin, glucose levels rise in the blood. High blood glucose levels damage blood vessels and eventually lead to organ damage.
New Diabetes Treatments
Currently, diabetics must use lifestyle factors (diet and exercise) to control their disease. In more advanced stages of the disease, individuals with diabetes must take insulin injections to keep blood glucose levels under check.
In the future, doctors hope to use living cells to produce insulin in the body. The advantage of this approach is that insulin-producing cells are responsive to blood sugar levels and can release insulin as needed to keep blood glucose levels stable. Researchers are working on safe and effective methods to develop insulin-producing cells in unlimited numbers so that they can be implanted into people with diabetes.
New Research in Diabetes Treatment
A team at the University of Copenhagen has been working on developing purer stem cell lines that are capable of producing insulin but are less likely to grow uncontrollably and develop into tumors. The Danish team used human pluripotent stem cells and identified a glycoprotein on the cell surface. This allowed them to isolate the cells that make up the pancreatic endoderm and create a pure sample of stem cells. The researchers believe that these stem cells are not only more effective but also safer when implanted into the human body.
The team in Denmark has focused on keeping the approach simple with the idea that it will eventually be ramped up for large-scale manufacturing. Stem cell therapy for diabetes type 1 is a promising approach in the future. Developing an allogeneic cell therapy that is affordable is the real challenge, explains Professor Henrik Semb, a member of the Danish research team.