Human stem cells might fulfill the promise of treating or perhaps even curing diabetes, said a study in the journal Nature Biotechnology as quoted by media reports Thursday.
Human stem cells were transformed into nearly normal insulin-producing cells when implanted into mice, added the study.
Previous research showed that transplantation of pancreatic beta cells, which regulate blood glucose levels by releasing insulin, can help control diabetes in humans. But the therapy relies on cells from donor pancreases, meaning the supply of such cells is limited.
The researchers transplanted immature beta cells derived from human embryonic stem cells into mice whose beta cells had been destroyed by chemical treatment.
The transplanted cells developed into glucose-responsive, insulin-secreting cells and helped control blood glucose levels in the mice one to three months later.
"They are producing all the right enzymes and release insulin in response to glucose," Emmanuel Baetge, chief scientific officer of California-based Novocell Inc, was quoted as saying.
"Our data provide the first compelling evidence that human embryonic stem cells can serve as a renewable source of functional insulin-producing cells for diabetes cell replacement therapies," said Baetge.
Baetge said his company has technology to encapsulate cells, protecting them from the immune system rejection response. And patients could use donations of stem cells from other people without taking immune-suppressing drugs.
"It won't get to the underlying cause of the autoimmune disease. It is only going to allow us to transplant the cells without giving immunosuppression," Baetge noted.
The company is now looking for a large pharmaceutical company to cooperate for further development.
(Agencies via Xinhua News Agency February 21, 2008)