Measuring blood sugar, injecting insulin, measuring blood sugar, injecting insulin. This monotonous rhythm is well-known by the 200.000 diabetics of type 1 in Germany. An annoying but at the same time indispensable for life procedure: If blood sugar gets out of control serious diseases threaten.
New research results may bring an end to this process in the future. A team of scientists from Belgium found adult stem-cells in the pancreas of mice and created insulin producing beta-cells out of these that are destroyed in type 1 diabetes. The scientists published their results in the magazine „Cell“in January this year. “If the activation of adult stem-cells to insulin producing beta-cells was to be successful in humans this would be a big step within the therapy of type 1 diabetes”, says Harry Heimberg, diabetes scientist at the Vrije University Brussels and coauthor of the study.
In order to analyze the stem-cells’ function, the researchers pinched off part of mature mice’s pancreas. Parts of the graft died off. The scientists observed that the number of beta-cells duplicated within two weeks. The new cells were healthy and produced insulin. The scientists assume that the creation of the new cells was due to an inflammatory reaction when the pancrea duct was ligated. The adult stem-cells incorporated within the injured graft probably get the command to develop into beta-cells.
Scientists now hope that these results can be applied to humans in order to implant the specially developed cells into the pancreas where they can take over insulin production. It would therefore not be necessary anymore to keep measuring blood-sugar and injecting insulin.
However, there is also reason for condern: „We cannot yet eliminate the risk of arising tumors out of the beta-cells because the studies undertaken so far were too short. We need to find solutions here to guarantee a secure application“, explains Dr. Jochen Seißler from the German Diabetes Research Institute in Düsseldorf. „If it is successful to dissolve the existent problems though, the stem-cell-therapy could be a new therapy option for the treatment of type 1 diabetes.“
The next step now is to find adult stem-cells in humans and to activate them. But experts agree on one thing: „It is still a long way until then.”