Researchers at Cedars-Sinai's Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute have found that a blood vessel-building gene boosts the ability of human bone marrow stem cells to sustain pancreatic recovery in a laboratory mouse model of insulin-dependent diabetes.
The findings, published in a PLOS ONE article of the Public Library of Science, offer new insights on mechanisms involved in regeneration of insulin-producing cells and provide new evidence that a diabetic's own bone marrow one day may be a source of treatment.
Scientists began studying bone marrow-derived stem cells for pancreatic regeneration a decade ago. Recent studies involving several pancreas-related genes and delivery methods - transplantation into the organ or injection into the blood - have shown that bone marrow stem cell therapy could reverse or improve diabetes in some laboratory mice. But little has been known about how stem cells affect beta cells - pancreas cells that produce insulin - or how scientists could promote sustained beta cell renewal and insulin production.
When the Cedars-Sinai researchers modified bone marrow stem cells to express a certain gene (vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF), pancreatic recovery was sustained as mouse pancreases were able to generate new beta cells. The VEGF-modified stem cells promoted growth of needed blood vessels and supported activation of genes involved in insulin production. Bone marrow stem cells modified with a different gene, PDX1, which is important in the development and maintenance of beta cells, resulted in temporary but not sustained beta cell recovery.
"Our study is the first to show that VEGF contributes to revascularization and recovery after pancreatic injury. It demonstrates the possible clinical benefits of using bone marrow-derived stem cells, modified to express that gene, for the treatment of insulin-dependent diabetes," said John S. Yu, MD, professor and vice chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai, senior author of the journal article.