Converting skin cells to pancreatic cells may help protect against diabetes

In a step forward for diabetes treatment, scientists successfully converted human skin cells into pancreatic cells that created insulin and protected mice from developing diabetes.

Researchers at the Gladstone Institutes and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) say their findings open the door for disease modeling, drug screening and making personalized cell therapy a step closer for diabetes patients.

The study, published January 6 in Nature Communications, involved reprogramming skin cells into early developmental cells, then adding molecules so the endoderm progenitor cells divided rapidly. Two more steps progressed the cells into fully-functional pancreatic beta cells.

Most importantly, researchers noted, the mice were protected from developing diabetes in an animal model of the disease, as the cells had the ability to produce insulin in response to changes in glucose levels.

The method of cellular reprogramming is more scalable than previous methods.

“This development ensures much greater regulation in the manufacturing process of new cells. Now we can generate virtually unlimited numbers of patient-matched insulin-producing pancreatic cells,” co-senior author Sheng Ding, PhD, a senior investigator in the Roddenberry Stem Cell Center at Gladstone said in the news release.

Diabetes occurs when blood glucose levels are too high, according to the National Institutes of Health. Insulin, a hormone, is used to help the cells ingest glucose for energy. Type 1 diabetes patients are unable to make insulin. Diabetics with type 2 are unable to make or use insulin well.

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