ScienceDaily (Mar. 11, 2012) — A study by Columbia researchers suggests that cells in the patient's intestine could be coaxed into making insulin, circumventing the need for 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.
The research -- conducted in mice -- was published 11 March 2012 in the journal Nature Genetics.
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, PhD, and Domenico Accili, MD, professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, shows that certain progenitor cells in the intestine of mice have the surprising ability to make insulin-producing cells. Dr. Talchai is a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Accili's lab.
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.