Diabetes breakthrough as experts learn how to completely reverse the condition in mice
Study mice were able to produce their own insulin following human stem cell transplant
16:34 GMT, 27 June 2012
Scientists have successfully reversed diabetes in mice using stem cells, paving the way for a breakthrough treatment for the illness.
The research is the first to show that human stem cell transplants can successfully restore insulin production and reverse diabetes in mice.
Crucially, the team re-created the 'feedback loop' that enables insulin levels to automatically rise or fall based on blood glucose levels.
Diabetics must take regular blood tests to check their blood glucose levels. Scientists have been able to restore normal insulin-producing cells in mice
Diabetes affects more than two million people in Britain.
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.
The research was led by Timothy Kieffer, a professor in the Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada, and scientists from the New Jersey-based BetaLogics, a division of Janssen Research & Development.
Prof Kieffer said: 'We are very excited by these findings, but additional research is needed before this approach can be tested clinically in humans.
'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.'
Type 2 diabetes results from insufficient production of insulin by the pancreas, while those with Type 1 don't produce any at all.
Insulin enables glucose to be stored by the body’s muscle, fat and liver and used as fuel; a shortage of insulin leads to high blood sugar that raises the risk of blindness, heart attack, stroke, nerve damage and kidney failure.
Regular injections of insulin are the most common treatment for the type 1 form of this disease, which often strikes young children. Although experimental transplants of healthy pancreatic cells from human donors have shown to be effective, that treatment is severely limited by the availability of donors.
The study was published online in the journal Diabetes.