Harvard scientists successfully convert pancreas cells to create insulin

Harvard University scientists, have identified the new approach to treat diabetes. They have successfully convert pancreas cells to produce insulin. Doug Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute is the study’s senior author.

They have activated a trio of dormant genes that commanded the cells to transform themselves, much as a person might upload a new operating system onto a computer to change a PC into a Mac. Within 10 days, the pancreas cells ceased their normal function making gut enzymes to digest food and instead produced insulin to regulate blood sugar. By introducing genes into a cell with a virus, the team is able to turn mouse exocrine cells, which make up about 95 per cent of the pancreas, into precious and rare insulin-producing beta cells. These beta cells, which comprise about one per cent of the pancreas, are the cells that die off in Type I diabetes(IDDM).

The scientists have already applied the technology among the mice successfully. And it is likely to be tested in human, within next two or five years.

However, the team stresses that there are numerous hurdles that lay ahead before a treatment could be tested in humans. Patricia Kilian, who heads regeneration therapy research at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, said the technique would sidestep some of the complexities inherent in the highly touted but controversial research involving embryonic stem cells.

The researchers call the process direct reprogramming. Prof Melton emphasises that his new work does not in any way eliminate the need for, or value of, work with iPS cells or human embryonic stem cells.

Prof Joan Brugge, Chair of the Department of Cell Biology at Harvard Medical School, says the study ” offers great potential therapeutically. Direct reprogramming represents a more straightforward strategy to treat diseases involving loss of function of specific cell populations than approaches requiring an intermediate embryonic stem cell.”

Source: Los Angeles Times

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