Diabetes Advance: Researchers Grow Insulin-Producing Cells From Testes

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Dec. 13, 2010 — New research suggests it may be possible for people with type 1 diabetes to grow their own insulin-producing cells — an advancement that could lead to a cure for this form of diabetes.

The preliminary findings are slated to be presented at the American Society of Cell Biology 50th annual meeting in Philadelphia.

“The goal here is to cure diabetes, not to treat it,” says study author G. Ian Gallicano, PhD, an associate professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular and cellular biology and the director of the Transgenic Core Facility at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Islet cells in the pancreas are responsible for producing insulin, but these cells are destroyed in people with type 1 diabetes. 

Of Mice and Men

In the new study, however, researchers were able to take cells from men’s testicular tissue, isolate stem cells, and turn them into insulin-secreting islet cells. These islet cells were then re-injected into mice with diabetes.

And it worked. “These cells behave a lot like beta-islet cells,” Gallicano says. “They secrete insulin in response to glucose, and we were able to secrete insulin in mouse models to reduce high blood sugar or glucose levels.” The effects lasted for one week.

The next step is to see if these cells can produce enough insulin to cure diabetes in people. If this occurs, clinical trials in humans can begin, he says.

Today, islet cells can be transplanted from donors into people with diabetes, but there is the risk of rejection. This risk is eliminated when the islet cells are derived from the recipient. There is also a shortage of available islet cell donors.

Gallicano says there are many unanswered questions, such as how to best deliver these bioengineered cells back into the body, and whether it will work in women.

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