New stem cell line could form building blocks for cell-based diabetes therapy

Researchers have developed a new human stem cell line that could be used as the building blocks for new diabetes and liver treatments.

The endodermal progenitor cells were produced by a team led by Dr. Paul Gadue, a stem cell biologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia‘s Center for Cellular and Molecular Therapeutics. One use for the cells is to produce beta cells, pancreatic cells that produce insulin when stimulated with glucose, that could lead to a new cell-based diabetes treatment, according to an article published in the journal Cell/Stem Cell.

The new cells were made by manipulating embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells — cells that are reprogrammed from somatic cells that can come from any part of the body and be manipulated into other cells. Using the combination of stem cells, the scientists developed endoderm cells — one of three layers of tissue found in early human development


The major advantage these new cells have over the other stem cell types is that they do not form tumors when transplanted into animals — a common problem with immature, impure stem cells. They can also be converted into liver and intestinal cells.

The discovery is also significant because the new stem cell line could soon be used as a disease-modeling tool for researchers to track how human diseases develop.

“It has been tough to generate mature functional cell types from embryonic stem cells, especially pancreatic beta cells,” said Gadue in a phone interview. “Now, we can generate functional beta cells in just two to three weeks.”

The finding is the culmination of a three-year effort funded by CHOP. Last year, it received a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Although Gadue cautions that any clinical trials using the endodermal progenitor stem cells are several years away, the cells could mark a turning point in the treatment of diabetes. A cell-based therapy for diabetes would be advantageous because it would do away with the need to frequently monitor glucose levels. Although the up-front expense would be greater, it could provide potential cost reductions compared with the cost of frequent hospital admissions when glucose levels get too high or too low.

 [Flickr photo from Holger Zscheyge]

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