Washington: In a breakthrough that signifies a move toward a cure for type 1 diabetes, researchers in Australia have identified stem cells in the pancreas that can be turned into insulin-producing cells.
The finding offers hope that the day will come soon when people with type 1 diabetes might one day be able to regenerate their own insulin-producing cells.
The ability to produce the hormone insulin is crucial for controlling blood sugar (glucose) levels. In people with type 1 diabetes the body’s immune system destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas, leading to a potentially fatal elevation of blood glucose levels.
People with type 1 diabetes rely on multiple daily injections of insulin, or an insulin infusion pump, to control their blood glucose, but control is not perfect and they are at risk of serious long-term health complications.
Dr Ilia Banakh and Professor Len Harrison from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’s Molecular Medicine division have not only identified and isolated stem cells from the adult pancreas, but developed a technique to drive these stem cells to become insulin-producing cells that can secrete insulin in response to glucose.
“In the long-term, we hope that people with type 1 diabetes might be able to regenerate their own insulin-producing cells. This would mean that they could make their own insulin and regain control of their blood glucose levels, curing their diabetes. Of course, this strategy will only work if we can devise ways to overcome the immune attack on the insulin-producing cells, that causes diabetes in the first place,” Professor Harrison said.