Changing Intestinal Cells into Insulin Producing Cells

by Mark Benson on March 15, 2012

Using intestinal cells to combat diabetes

New research from Columbia found that cells in an individual’s intestines can become insulin production factories. With this new finding, this can replace the common procedure of stem cell transplantation. Until this new finding, the common procedure was to transplant cells to replace cells lost during the onslaught of Type 1 diabetes.

The research was done on laboratory mice and would be published in the journal Nature Genetics last March 11, 2012.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition wherein the insulin production cells are destroyed by the body’s immune system. Unlike other cells, these pancreatic cells are not replaceable. Thus when destroyed by the body, the individual would need to inject themselves with insulin to replace what the body should normally produce. Abnormal levels of blood glucose can become a health issue and also the individual would need to regularly monitor their glucose levels several times a day.

One of the goals of diabetes research is find means and ways to replace these cells lost because of the condition. The most popular means was to create insulin producing cells from embryonic stem cells. There are many issues, such as the inability to properly respond to the needs of the body’s glucose levels. Without the proper insulin, there are both short-term and long-term issues for the individual suffering from diabetes.

The study leaders are Chutima Talchai PhD and Domenico Accili MD from the Professor of Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. The study found that certain cells in the intestines of mice have the ability to become cells that are able to produce insulin. These cells are called gastrointestinal progenitor cells are able to produce many kinds of cells, such as cells that produce serotonin, gastric inhibitory peptides and other hormones essential to the normal processes in the gastrointestinal tract and bloodstream.

The study found that when the gene known as Foxo1, a gene that plays a role in cellular processes, is turned off, the progenitor cells can become insulin-producing cells. A greater number of insulin-producing cells were generated when Foxo1was turned off early in development of the individual.

According to Dr. Accli, “Our results show that it could be possible to regrow insulin-producing cells in the GI tracts in our pediatric and adult patients. Nobody would have predicted this result. Many things could have happened after we knocked out Foxo1. In the pancreas, when we knock out Foxo1, nothing happens. So why does something happen in the gut? Why don’t we get a cell that produces some other hormone? We don’t know yet.”

The main issue though would be the presence of insulin producing cells in the intestines would be hazardous to an individual’s health if they do not respond to blood glucose levels. What the researchers found was that new intestinal cells have receptors that sense glucose, resulting in their reaction to the increased glucose levels.

The key in this study to become viable therapies against diabetes would be finding a drug that produces the same effect on the gastrointestinal progenitor cells in removing Foxo1 gene in mice.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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