SHANGHAI, March 23 (Xinhua) -- Using stem cells from mice, Chinese researchers have grown tiny functioning segments of insulin-producing organs, called islet organoids, in a laboratory, in a bid to find ways to treat diabetes.
In a recent study published in the scientific journal Cell, a research team, led by the Shanghai Institute of Biochemistry and Cell Biology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, identified the stem cells in adult mouse pancreatic islets and established an in vitro culture system for the long-term growth of the islet organoids.
According to the study, with the help of single-cell sequencing technologies, the researchers found a new group of cell types called "Procr+cells" in mice. Experiments then showed that the Procr+cells are stem cells in mouse islets that can differentiate all islet cell types.
They cultured the Procr+cells in vitro and established an in vitro system that can derive functional islet organoids for the long term.
The artificial islet organoids are very similar to the mouse islets in function and morphology. When the researchers transplanted these organoids into diabetic mice, the blood sugar levels of these mice became normal and their symptoms of diabetes went away.
Diabetes is one of the major chronic diseases that threaten human health. Many patients need to use insulin for lifelong treatment due to insufficient insulin secretion caused by abnormal functions of islet cells.
Islet transplantation has been considered an approach for diabetic patients, but it is limited due to the shortage of donors. Scientists have been investigating better ways to treat diabetes.
Zeng Yi, the lead researcher, said the study is a major breakthrough in basic stem cell research. It has for the first time identified stem cells in mouse islets, answering a long-standing controversial question of whether there are stem cells in islets.
But Zeng also emphasized that the current research results have only been proved in mice.
"Answering questions such as can stem cells also exist in human islets and can they also be cultured into islets in vitro still needs further exploration and study," Zeng said.