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Adult Stem Cells Offer New Hope for Diabetics

pancreatic stem cells

Immunofluorescent staining of a colony of pancreatic stem cells showing the expression of insulin (green), the nucleus (blue) and the BrdU nuclear marker of proliferating cells (red).

By Ilia Banakh

The transplantation of insulin-producing cells has been limited by a shortage of donor tissue. Could pancreatic stem cells offer a way forward for the treatment of diabetes?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Type 1 diabetes is the end result of an auto­immune response that destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. The subsequent deficiency of insulin prevents the body’s cells from taking glucose from the bloodstream for use as an energy source. This, in turn, results in hyperglycaemia – a state of high glucose levels in the blood.

Long-term exposure to hyperglycaemia is life-threatening. It causes tissue damage, affecting blood vessels and nerves. Type 1 diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, and triggers blindness and kidney failure in adults.

Loss of insulin production requires treatment with insulin injections, but this rarely controls blood glucose adequately. While this issue can be overcome by transplanting pancreatic islet cells, the high cost, need for toxic immunosuppressive drugs and shortage of donor tissue limit the implementation of this treatment. A further setback is that few transplant recipients have achieved independence from insulin injections.

Therefore there is a need to generate renewable sources of insulin-producing cells. Alternative sources of beta cells, such as embryonic and adult stem cells, have been considered for this role.

Embryonic stem cells are self-renewing and have the capacity to generate all types of adult cells. Already, insulin-expressing cells have been generated from mouse...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.