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Neural Stem Cells in Diabetes Treatment

Japanese researchers have found the way of replenishing beta cells in diabetes patients with the use of patients’ neural stem cells. The finding may help overcome the problem of insufficient beta cell transplants from donors. The results of the research are reported in EMBO Molecular Medicine on October 6.

First type diabetes is characterized by insufficient insulin production due to pancreatic beta cells destruction in an autoimmune process. As there is no cure for the disease now, patients rely on external insulin sources.

The research team from the AIST Institute in Tsukuba, Japan, works on developing methods for directing human stem cell differentiation into cells needed for treating various diseases and conditions. Type I diabetes ideally suits for stem cell treatment as it is caused by the loss of a single cell type. Given lack of donors of beta cells using stem cells to produce these cells has long been awaited.

The researchers took stem cells from hippocampus and olfactory bulb situated at the front of the brain and transplanted them directly into the pancreas of diabetic rats. Though normally neuronal stem cells do not produce insulin, having been transplanted into the pancreas, they not only gained key characteristics of beta cells but also started to produce insulin. The latter resulted in decrease in blood glucose level. When the transplant was removed the blood glucose level rose again proving the effectiveness of neural stem cell transplantation in diabetes treatment.

The use of neural stem cells did not engage any genetic cell manipulation, and the cells used in the experiments were autologous, meaning that a patient can be a donor of stem cells for himself. The researchers hope this finding will help overcome the issue of shortage of beta cell donors for diabetes patients.