Scientists Create Personalized Stem Cells, Raising Hopes for Diabetes Cure
Insulin-producing cells could one day replace cells damaged by diabetes, a step toward curing the disease
PUBLISHED APRIL 28, 2014
These cells, which used DNA from a 32-year-old woman who had developed Type-1 diabetes at the age of ten, might herald the day—still far in the future—when scientists replace dysfunctional cells with healthy cells identical to the patient’s own but grown in the lab.
"This is a really important step forward in our quest to develop healthy, patient-specific stem cells that can be used to replace cells that are diseased or dead," said Susan Solomon, chief executive officer of NYSCF, which she co-founded in 2005 partly to search for a cure for her son’s diabetes.
Embryonic Stem Cells Morph Into Beta Cells
In Type 1 diabetes, the body loses its ability to produce insulin wheninsulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas become damaged. Ideally this problem could be corrected with replacement therapy, using stem cells to create beta cells the body would recognize as its own because they contain the patient’s own genome. This is the holy grail of personalized medicine.
To create a patient-specific line of embryonic stem cells, Egli and his colleagues used a technique known as somatic cell nuclear transfer. They took skin cells from the female patient, removed the nucleus from one cell and then inserted it into a donor egg cell—an oocyte—from which the nucleus had been removed.
They stimulated the egg to grow until it became a blastocyst, a hundred-cell embryo in which some cells are “pluripotent,” or capable of turning into any type of cell in the body. The researchers then directed a few of those embryonic stem cells to become beta cells. To their delight, the beta cells in the lab produced insulin, just as they would have in the body.
This research builds on work done last year in which scientists from the Oregon Health and Science University used the somatic cell nuclear transfer technique with skin cells from a fetus. It also advances previous work done by Egli and his colleagues in 2011, in which theycreated embryonic stem cell lines with an extra set of chromosomes. (The new stem cells, and the ones from Oregon, have the normal number of chromosomes.)
Shoukhrat Mitalipov, director of the Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy in Oregon, praised Egli’s work: “Personally knowing Egli and his team, I have no doubts that they derived stem cells from nuclear transfer.”
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