CHICAGO, Feb. 24 (Xinhua) -- Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have converted human stem cells into insulin-producing cells and demonstrated in mice infused with such cells that blood sugar levels can be controlled and diabetes functionally cured for nine months.
The findings were published online on Monday in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
"A common problem when you're trying to transform a human stem cell into an insulin-producing beta cell, or a neuron or a heart cell, is that you also produce other cells that you don't want," said principal investigator Jeffrey R. Millman, an assistant professor of medicine and of biomedical engineering at Washington University.
"The more off-target cells you get, the less therapeutically relevant cells you have," Millman said.
Several years ago, the same researchers already discovered how to convert human stem cells into pancreatic beta cells that make insulin. This time using a new technique, Millman's team found far fewer off-target cells were produced while the beta cells that were made had improved function.
The technique targets the cells' internal scaffolding, called the cytoskeleton. The cytoskeleton is what gives a cell its shape and allows the cell to interact with its surrounding environment, converting physical cues into biochemical signals.
"We were able to make more beta cells, and those cells functioned better in the mice, some of which remained cured for more than a year," said Millman.
The new technique works efficiently across stem cells from multiple different sources, greatly expanding the ability of this technique in the study of disease.
There is still much to do before this strategy can be used to treat people with diabetes. In the next step, the researchers will test the cells over longer periods of time in larger animal models and work to automate the process, Millman said.