Stem Cells Used for Diabetes Treatment

by Mark Benson on September 21, 2011

Stem cells into islet cells

Stem cell research has captured the imagination of the world for the beneficial effects it promises to many of the ailments currently experienced by humans. The richest source of stem cells comes from the endometrium or the lining of the female uterus. Because the female uterus regenerates itself each month as part of the menstrual cycle, it is one of the most flexible stem cells with its quality of being able to divide into different kinds of cells.

A Yale university research found that endometrial stem cells could be engineered to become islet cells, which are the cells that produce insulin. Islet cells are often found in the pancreas and with the study, islet cell transplantation can provide a means for people suffering from diabetes a way to manage and even develop a cure for their ills.

Yale University Professor Hugh S. Taylor MD headed the research and the process bathed endometrial stem cells in cultures rich in nutrients. The endometrial cells developed into pancreatic beta cell characteristics with the ability to produce insulin. During the three-week incubation process, the stem cells mimicked the abilities of beta cells with the ability to produce insulin.

When the body breaks down food into glucose and is circulated through the bloodstream, beta cells release insulin to help the body metabolize the glucose in the blood. When the researchers introduced the mature stem cells to glucose, they behaved in the same manner as beta cells and start producing insulin.

The result was found in diabetic mice. When these diabetic mice were injected with the mature stem cells, the blood glucose levels remained the same but did not have complications such as lethargy and cataracts. On the other hand, diabetic mice without the stem cell introduction developed cataracts and became very lethargic.

The next step of the research is to determine how long the mature stem cells retain their insulin producing capacity. Taylor said “We will also investigate how changing the nutrient bath or increasing the dose of injected cells could make the treatment more effective.” He added “Endometrial stem cells might prove most useful for Type 1 diabetes, in which the immune system destroys the body’s own insulin-producing cells. As a result, insulin is not available to control blood glucose levels.”

The research study was developed under the auspices of the National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The Yale study team includes Xavier Santamaria, Elfi E. Massasa, Yuzhe Feng and Erin Wolff.

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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