Researchers are one step closer to being able to regenerate insulin in pancreatic stem cells, which could eliminate the need for insulin injections for those with type 1 diabetes.
The long-held goal of being able to regenerate insulin in pancreatic stem cells is closer to becoming a reality for those with type 1 diabetes (T1D), according to new research published in scientific journal Nature earlier this month.
Using pancreatic cells from three donors — a child, an adult with T1D, and a non-diabetic person — researchers from the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute were able to regenerate destroyed insulin-producing cells, resulting in glucose-sensing and functionally-secreting insulin cells.
The researchers used two U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs to stimulate newly made insulin cells and found that the cells were able to respond to glucose and produce insulin within 48 hours. They demonstrated that this method is effective in a seven-year-old who has had T1D for just one month, as well as a 61-year-old who’s had it for 33 years.
In individuals with T1D, the immune system’s T-cells selectively destroy the endocrine cells found in pancreatic islets that synthesize, store, and release insulin — called beta cells.
"Destruction of these cells leads to a lifelong dependence on [external] insulin administration for survival," the study authors wrote. "Consequently, there is an urgent need to identify novel therapies that stimulate beta cell growth and induce beta cell function."
Current pharmaceutical options for diabetes treatment help to control blood glucose levels, but they do not prevent, delay, or reverse the decline in insulin-secreting beta cells.
While treatments beyond insulin injections do exist, they center around restoring impaired insulin cell mass using transplantation. The authors said this poses the significant challenge of a shortage of available donors, coupled with the potential for adverse effects linked to immunosuppressive medications.
This novel approach could become the very first treatment to effectively regenerate a patient’s existing pancreatic cells and stimulate insulin production, representing a promising and long-awaited development for the millions of people living with T1D worldwide.