Insulin-producing beta cells produced from the cells of patients suffering from type 1 diabetes are functional in mice, reports a paper published online in Nature Communications. The study finds that, after skin cells from three patients with type 1 diabetes have been reprogrammed into beta-like cells after inducing pluripotency, these beta-like cells maintain their functionality (producing insulin and regulating blood glucose levels) when transplanted into mice. Although the human skin cells are derived from just three patients - whose cells may not reflect the full diversity of the disease - these results may help further our understanding of diabetes.
Douglas Melton and colleagues took cells from the connective tissue of three patients suffering from diabetes and reprogram them into beta-like cells using a method that they and other researchers had previously established. They compared their functional activity to that of normally-functioning beta cells in order to see if the skin cells could produce functional, insulin-secreting cells or if they retained information from the disease state. They found that the patient-derived beta-like cells were fully functional: they responded to glucose and secreted insulin both in cell culture and when transplanted into groups of three to five mice which were assessed over the course of several months.
Although clinical applications are still far away, this work could help in future replacement therapy studies and in the development of screens for new drugs to treat diabetes.