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Spermatogonial stem cells can be used for treating type 1 diabetes

Beta-islet cells have been produced from stem cells of testicular tissue, which may become a turning point in treating type 1 diabetes. The research team from Georgetown University Medical Centre, Washington DC, turned spermatogonial stem cells, or early sperm precursors, into beta-islet insuling-producing cells. They presented their discovery at the annual meeting of American Society of Cell Biology in Philadelphia.

Type 1 diabetes begins with the massive loss of pancreas insulin-producing cells. With sharply decreased amount of insulin produced, blood sugar level increases, while body cells lose their major energy source. The disease is treated with insulin injections among other things.

Both animal and laboratory studies have proven that sperm stem cells collected from testicular tissue can differentiate into any other body cells, including beta islet cells, without help of any extra genes that are often used to re-program adult stem cells to bring them pluripotent properties analogous to those of embryonic cells. Using these cells can turn more efficient compared to other novel diabetes therapies that are being tested. For example, transplantation of beta-cells from dead donor pancreas can result in their rejection; there is also lack of such donors. Another method that is being tested—transplantation of induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS cells), or adult stem cells re-programmed to behave like embryonic ones—can result in teratomas. Instead of utilizing IPS cells, the researchers used sperm stem cells retrieved from deceased organ donors, which is more available stem cell source.

The researchers could produce around 1 million stem cells from a gram of human testes tissue. The beta-cells received in the experiment were then administered to diabetic mice with induced immune deficiency. After the transplantation, the blood sugar levels in mice dropped and were low for a subsequent week. After that, the effect began to subside. However, the researchers claim there is a way to prolong the effect.

Should the technique prove to work for humans, the men with type 1 diabetes can serve as their own stem cell donors. But the researchers do not limit the method's treatment potential to men only. They believe that their findings could be extended to egg cells as well, and these cells could as well be turned into beta-cells. Should all this happen, the effective treatment of type 1 diabetes can be developed. There will be no tumor risk and no histocompatibility problems associated with such a treatment.