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Stem Cell Research Brings New Knowledge on Insulin Production

Scientists from The Danish Stem Cell Center and Hagedorn Research Institute together with their partners from Germany, Japan, Korea and the USA have discovered new details of the processes that control the body's insulin production. This is an important step towards forming insulin-producing beta cells from stem cells. The research insights have been published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the US).

Insulin is a hormone produced by pancreatic beta cells which is responsible for regulating glucose metabolism in the body. When these cells get damaged, the person develops diabetes. The conventional medicine can support these people with daily doses of external insulin, but cannot guarantee any recovery. That is why one of the directions of stem cell research is using stem cells to produce properly functioning beta cells.

However, to convert stem cells into pancreatic beta cells, it is necessary to know the signaling mechanisms that control beta cells formation in a developing fetus. With such knowledge, the researchers will be able to reproduce the process in the test tube and develop effective diabetes treatment methods.

The early phases of fetal beta cell development have long been known. The study contributes to understanding of the next step of the whole mechanism. Namely, it describes the so-called Notch signaling and its ability first to inhibit and then to stimulate the creation of beta cells. With this knowledge, the scientists will be able to develop new ways of cultivating stem cells in order to effectively convert them into pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin.