U.S. and British scientists have engineered stem cells from umbilical cords of newborns to produce insulin. This finding may someday be used to treat diabetes.
“This discovery tells us that we have the potential to produce insulin from adult stem cells to help people with diabetes,” said the study director, Dr. Randall Urban, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
The researchers used human umbilical cord blood because it is an especially rich source of fresh “adult” stem cells. These stem cells were tested in the laboratory to ensure that they were predisposed to divide. The scientists then used a previously successful method in which complex signals produced by the embryonic mouse pancreas were used to direct adult stem cells to begin development into islet-like cells.
As they grew the adult stem cells in the laboratory, after tests the engineered cells showed evidence of a trait, or marker, that was previously thought to only exist in embryonic cells. Also, the adult stem cells produced both C-peptide and insulin, just as embryonic cells have been shown to do. Confirming the presence of C-peptide was central; its presence confirmed that at least some of the insulin was produced, or synthesized, by the engineered cells.
Dr. Urban stressed that this discovery is extremely basic research at this point. He cautioned, “It doesn’t prove that we’re going to be able to do this in people—it’s just the first step up the rung of the ladder.”
Illustration: MicroSoft clipart.
Cell Proliferation (06/2007)
The Times of India (05/27/07)