Diabetes Reversal In Mice Via Stem Cells
June 28, 2012

Diabetes Reversal In Mice Via Stem Cells

Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Diabetes is a detrimental disease. In order to combat the illness, University of British Columbia (UBC) researchers conducted a study with an industry partner and discovered that stem cells can reverse Type 1 diabetes in mice.

The discovery leads the way for the development of innovative treatments of diabetes, which is caused by deficient production of insulin by the pancreas. Insulin allows glucose to be held by the body´s muscle, fat, and liver; in turn, it´s used as fuel for the body. Blindness, heart attack, kidney failure, nerve damage, and stroke are possible consequences of low insulin production. The research by the UBC investigators addressed these various issues. The study was led by Timothy Kieffer, a professor in the Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences, as well as scientists from BetaLogics, the New Jersey-based division of Janssen Research & Development, LLC.

"We are very excited by these findings, but additional research is needed before this approach can be tested clinically in humans," remarked Kieffer, a member of UBC's Life Sciences Institute, in a prepared statement.

The team of investigators is the first to demonstrate that human stem cell transplants can bring back insulin production and reverse diabetes in mice. They were able to re-create the “feedback loop” that allows insulin levels to automatically increase or decrease based on blood glucose levels. The results from their projects was recently published online on the website of the journal Diabetes.

Following the stem cell transplant, the diabetes mice were slowly taken off insulin, a procedure which was to mirror human clinical condition. Even if they were given copious amounts of sugar, the mice were able to continue healthy blood sugar levels three to four months later. The transplanted cells that were removed from the mice many months after the experiments also showed signs of normal insulin-producing pancreatic cells.

“Essentially, the mice were cured of their diabetes by placing the body back in charge of regulated insulin production as it is in healthy, non-diabetics,” Kieffer told the Vancouver Sun. “It took about four to five months for the [stem] cells to become functional in our experiments and the mice were able to maintain good blood glucose levels even when fed a high-glucose diet,” said Kieffer, a UBC professor in the department of cellular and physiological sciences.

Research still needs to be done to finalize details of the approach for diabetes treatment.

"The studies were performed in diabetic mice that lacked a properly functioning immune system that would otherwise have rejected the cells. We now need to identify a suitable way of protecting the cells from immune attack so that the transplant can ultimately be performed in the absence of any immunosuppression,” explained Kieffer in the statement.

According to the Vancouver Sun, the team of scientists received at least $500,000 in grant funding. Organizations that supported the research include the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Stem Cell Network of Canada, Stem Cell Technologies of Vancouver, the JDRF, and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.