Major hurdle cleared to diabetes transplants

Scientists have found a way to make insulin-producing cells, pictured above in fluorescent blue, multiply in the laboratory. This may allow clinicians to treat more patients who have type 1 diabetes with transplants of the cells. Credit: Haytham Aly

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have identified a way to trigger reproduction in the laboratory of clusters of human cells that make insulin, potentially removing a significant obstacle to transplanting the cells as a treatment for patients with type 1 diabetes.

Efforts to make this treatment possible have been limited by a dearth of insulin-producing beta cells that can be removed from donors after death, and by the stubborn refusal of human beta cells to proliferate in the laboratory after harvesting.

The new technique uses a cell conditioning solution originally developed to trigger reproduction of cells from the lining of the intestine.

“Until now, there didn’t seem to be a way to reliably make the limited supply of human beta cells proliferate in the laboratory and remain functional,” said Michael McDaniel, PhD, professor of pathology and immunology. “We have not only found a technique to make the cells willing to multiply, we’ve done it in a way that preserves their ability to make insulin.” Via Major hurdle cleared to diabetes transplants.

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