Scientists create mini stomachs that could lead to cure for type 1 diabetes

by Barbara Hewitt on February 23, 2016

Mini stomachs grown in the laboratory could one day help cure type 1 diabetes, according to scientists in the United States.

Research carried out at the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard University in Boston found that these mini organs could trick stem cells into producing insulin when transplanted into the body.

They have found a way of producing new insulin producing cells from the tissue that lines the stomach. The research team reports that this has worked with cells from the lower section of the stomach, known as the pylorus region, transplanted into mice.


Senior study author Qiao Zhou and colleagues pinpointed the cells in the stomach lining as being the best for the process. “We discovered, surprisingly, that some of the cells in the pylorus region of the stomach are most amenable to conversion to beta cells. This tissue appears to be the best starting material,” he explained.

The pylorus region is the area that joins the stomach to the small intestine and the researchers reprogrammed cells to behave like beta cells. These cells had the strongest response to high blood glucose levels in the mice, producing insulin in order to bring their glucose levels back to normal.

To test the effectiveness of these cells, the researchers destroyed the beta cells of two groups of diabetes mouse models. One group had their pylorus cells reprogrammed to act like beta cells, while a control group did not undergo pylorus cell reprogramming.

While the mice in the control group died within eight weeks, those that had their pylorus cells reprogrammed maintained their insulin and glucose levels for the entire monitoring period, which was up to six months. The researchers said that this suggests that the reprogrammed pylorus cells compensated for the lack of beta cells.

They also explained that the pylorus region of the stomach has stem cells that renew themselves regularly. This means the re-engineered beta cells are automatically replaced when they die.

Zhou hopes that a future treatment for human diabetics may come from this work. “This would involve harvesting pyloric cells from a person’s stomach, reprogramming them to beta cells and forming them into a ball shaped mini organ, before transplanting this back into the body. That’s what we’re working on now. We’re very excited,” he said.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the 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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