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Transforming skin cells could treat diabetes


Reprogrammed skin stem cells protected mice from chemically-induced diabetes, a new study published in natural sciences research journal Nature Communications has shown.

The replacement of lost or damaged pancreatic beta cells – which produce insulin, the hormone that lowers blood sugar levels by spurring the take-up of glucose – with functioning ones is now a major area of diabetic research.

In this new study, scientists used specific chemicals and growth factors to reprogram human skin stem cells – fibroblasts – to produce mature, functioning pancreatic beta-like cells.

The cells were transplanted into mice, in which they secreted insulin in response to glucose and protected the mice from diabetes that had been chemically induced.

A technique common in stem cell research that avoided having to reprogramme of the fibroblasts as fully pluripotent cells was used in the study. This was done to streamline and speed up the process in order to produce large quantities of cells for research purposes. This allowed for the rapid production of cells in large quantities with safety checks being performed at each stage.

Stem cell research is at the forefront of finding ways to fight diabetes, and studies such as this one have shown that the replacement of damaged pancreatic cells with functioning ones is a viable option for sufferers.

Cells like those produced by the study could be used for transplantation, allowing the pancreas to secrete insulin, helping people to control their diabetes, or for personal drug screening.

Stem cells from a tooth – stored by BioEden – were used in the treatment of diabetes for the first time last year when stem cell therapy was used to treat Fernandez Carillo, 39, who was able to reduce the amount of insulin he was taking significantly after just 12 weeks and experienced increased energy levels and improved vision.

However, a perfect stem cell match is required for successful stem cell therapy as this ensures the body will not react against it, avoiding a lifetime of taking anti-rejection drugs. The best stem cells are those harvested and stored from naturally-shed baby teeth, as these will not have been deteriorated by age or pollutants.