Study: Stem cells may make insulin cells

Oct. 23, 2006 at 11:47 AM
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SAN DIEGO, Oct. 23 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say human embryonic stem cells can be converted into cells that produce all five hormones made by the pancreas, including insulin.

Research conducted by Edward Baetge and colleagues at Novocell Inc. in San Diego suggests the possibility of turning human embryonic stem cells into pancreatic cells that can be used for diabetes therapy.

Human embryonic stem cells have the potential to become virtually any cell type in the body. Thus, they are a promising source of cells to repair damaged organs, such as the pancreas, heart and liver.

Baetge and colleagues show the efficient generation of insulin-producing cells from human embryonic stem cells depends on guiding the cells through stages similar to those of pancreatic development. The researchers said the cells they created contained high levels of insulin and were also capable of secreting insulin -- but only minimally in response to sugar, which is a crucial function of adult beta-cells.

The scientists speculate that, with additional research, the cells have the potential to be matured into insulin-producing cells that could be suitable for transplantation into patients.

The study is reported online in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

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