Researchers from the Institute of Medical Biology (IMB) under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine (YLLSoM ) at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have scored a breakthrough in developing an unlimited number of pure insulin-producing cells from mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs). The team of researchers was co-led by Dr. Lim Sai Kiang, a principal investigator with IMB and a research associate professor at the Department of Surgery, YLLSoM, NUS, and Dr Li Guodong, a research associate professor at National University Medical Institutes, YLLSoM, NUS.
These pure insulin-producing cells, which have the same sub-cellular structures as the insulin-producing cells found in the pancreas, are highly effective in treating diabetes. Experiments by Dr. Lim and Dr. Li’s group showed that when transplanted into diabetic mice with high blood glucose levels, the pure insulin-producing cells would cause the blood glucose levels of the animals to decrease. The experiments also showed that the subsequent removal of the transplanted cells from the diabetic mice would restore the blood glucose to its original level.
In addition, it was discovered that none of the diabetic mice involved in the transplants developed teratoma, a type of tumor often associated with ESCs, which could complicate their use in therapeutic treatment. Furthermore, the pure insulin-producing cells managed to retain their insulin-production and glucose-sensing capacity over time.
The researchers’ achievement provides proof of principle that this strategy could be applied to human ESCs to obtain similar pure insulin-producing cells. Congratulating the authors on their findings, Professor Gordon Weir, Director of the Clinical Islet Transplantation Program at Harvard Medical School, who also holds appointments at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Joslin Diabetes Centre, said, “The amount of careful work done by this group of researchers is impressive. We need something to put into diabetic patients to treat their condition, and these findings tell us interesting things about the development of beta cells.”
The strategic approach by the group offers avenues for further research in the treatment for diabetes. Said Dr. Lim, “Our ability to isolate and then multiply insulin-producing cells from differentiating ESCs provides an unlimited supply of pure insulin-producing cells to study in unprecedented detail many aspects of these cells.”
Added Dr. Li, “Besides providing a tool to facilitate basic research in test tubes and animals, these insulin-producing cells may be also used to replace the isolated native pancreatic cells that are hard to obtain in a large amount for pharmacological tests.”
Illustration: Researchers in Singapore have made transplants of pure insulin-producing cells into diabetic mice, reducing blood glucose levels in the mice. –iStockphoto.
Agency for Science, Technology, & Research News Release (11/20/08)
Science Daily (11/21/08)
Medical News Today (11/24/08)
Abstract (Stem Cell Research; Vol. 2, Issue 1, 29-40 (01/09))
Abstract (Stem Cell Research; Vol. 2, Issue 1, 41-55 (01/09))