Could we be near a bona fide treatment for a disease which affects over 300 million people? A remedy for the Case of the Mondays perhaps?
No, it’s better than that; researchers from Harvard University believe that they might have uncovered a new strategy to replace lost insulin secreting cells of the pancreas (b cells) in diabetic patients.
Loss of these cells means that the body cannot regulate blood sugar levels leading to health problems. Current replacement therapies fall short, in terms of cell number and/or cell quality, so a new and improved strategy for b cell production would be a tremendous breakthrough.
Doug Melton’s group have now reported a means to produce a sufficient number of high quality, functional b cells from human pluripotent stem cells to now view b cell transplantation as a viable therapeutic option in humans.
They employed a scalable technique which modulates various signaling pathways in a sequential manner in cells grown in a liquid suspension culture. Importantly, the protocol includes the addition of the recently discovered hormone Betatrophin to promote b cell growth in vivo.
The cells created using this protocol:
- Can be produced on a very large scale (Billions of cells!)
- Require no genetic modifications
- Represent a relatively pure cell population
- Act like human b cells both in vitro and in vivo
This all sounds very “sweet”, but let’s balance out our levels. While this represents a huge leap forward for the field, there is work to be done.
The cells require further animal trials, an as yet undeveloped cell encapsulation device is necessary, and human testing itself may be some years away. But let’s not end on a bitter note; get your sugar fix here with some sweet science (Pagliuca et al, Cell, 2014).