Transplant of cells can restore insulin production
University of British Columbia scientists, in collaboration with an industry partner, have successfully reversed diabetes in mice using stem cells, paving the way for a breakthrough treatment for a disease that affects nearly one in four Canadians.
The research by Timothy Kieffer, a professor in the Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences, and scientists from the New Jersey-based BetaLogics, a division of Janssen Research & Development, LLC, is the first to show that human stem cell transplants can successfully restore insulin production and reverse diabetes in mice. Crucially, they re-created the "feedback loop" that enables insulin levels to automatically rise or fall based on blood glucose levels. The study is published online today in the journal Diabetes.
After the stem cell transplant, the diabetic mice were weaned off insulin, a procedure designed to mimic human clinical conditions. Three to four months later, the mice were able to maintain healthy blood sugar levels even when being fed large quantities of sugar. Transplanted cells removed from the mice after several months had all the markings of normal insulin-producing pancreatic cells.
"We are very excited by these findings, but additional research is needed before this approach can be tested clinically in humans," says Kieffer, a member of UBC's Life Sciences Institute. "The studies were performed in diabetic mice that lacked a properly functioning immune system that would otherwise have rejected the cells. We now need to identify a suitable way of protecting the cells from immune attack so that the transplant can ultimately be performed in the absence of any immunosuppression."