London: A new study conducted by scientists suggests a new approach that could give patients the ability to make their own insulin-producing cells without a stem cell transplant.Until now, stem cell transplants have been seen by many researchers as the ideal way to replace cells lost in type I diabetes and to free patients from insulin injections.Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease that destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The pancreas cannot replace these cells, so once they are lost, people with type I diabetes must inject themselves with insulin to control their blood glucose.Blood glucose that is too high or too low can be life threatening, and patients must monitor their glucose several times a day.A longstanding goal of type I diabetes research is to replace lost cells with new cells that release insulin into the bloodstream as needed.Though researchers can make insulin-producing cells in the laboratory from embryonic stem cells, such cells are not yet appropriate for transplant because they do not release insulin appropriately in response to glucose levels.If these cells were introduced into a patient, insulin would be secreted when not needed, potentially causing fatal hypoglycemia.The study, conducted by Chutima Talchai and Domenico Accili from Columbia University Medical Center, shows that certain progenitor cells in the intestine of mice have the surprising ability to make insulin-producing cells.The gastrointestinal progenitor cells are normally responsible for producing a wide range of cells, including cells that produce serotonin, gastric inhibitory peptide, and other hormones secreted into the GI tract and bloodstream.They found that when they turned off a gene known to play a role in cell fate decisions—Foxo1—the progenitor cells also generated insulin-producing cells. More cells were generated when Foxo1 was turned off early in development, but insulin-producing cells were also generated when the gene was turned off after the mice had reached adulthood.
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