Insulin injections and finger pricks to check glucose levels are still an integral part of life for many diabetics. Scientists are always on the lookout for methods that may help treat this disease without causing pain. Researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) just managed to make a breakthrough in medical technology.
Stem Cells, Pancreatic Beta Cells and clusters
Micro-physiologist Matthias Hebrok said, “We can now generate insulin-producing cells that look and act a lot like the pancreatic beta cells you and I have in our bodies. This is a critical step towards our goal of creating cells that could be transplanted into patients with diabetes."
Manually injecting insulin is not only painful but it also increases the risk of kidney failure, heart disease and stroke. Other options of treating diabetes, like pancreas transplant, introducing new beta cells etc. isn’t widely available due to lack of donors. Researchers have been trying to create pancreatic beta cells for many years now.
"The cells we and others were producing were getting stuck at an immature stage where they weren't able to respond adequately to blood glucose and secrete insulin properly. It has been a major bottleneck for the field."
The scientists observed that these cells arrange themselves in protrusions called pancreatic islets. The process was observed in a petri dish and the stem cells were clustered artificially in a similar fashion as they do inside the body. This artificial structuring allowed the cells to behave in a similar manner as the regular insulin producing cells.
A long way to go
These clusters were then transplanted into mice and it was seen that in a matter if days, these cells produced insulin in response to blood sugar levels. Of course, there is still a lot more work to be done. There is always a possibility that the human immune system may reject such transfusion of cells.
Anyone willing to undergo this treatment will have to be under the effect of immune suppressors for their entire lifetime. However, one cannot deny that this step is a huge leap in medical technology and we hope that the team will be successful in producing an effective treatment in a few years.
You can read more on this research in Nature Cell Biology.