Scientists from the Gladstone Institute have found a way to reprogram skin cells so that they can produce insulin and fight Type–1 diabetes. Type–1 diabetes has troubled the scientists for a longer period of time as no known cure has yet been found. Although regular insulin injections make it manageable, yet it cannot be considered a permanent solution.
Type–1 diabetes is usually caused by the destruction of β (beta) cells. Scientists from Gladstone therefore, turned towards stem cell technology so as to create the missing β–cells that secrete insulin to absorb glucose from the blood. However, the β–cells have limited regenerative abilities and once they mature, it is difficult to make more. So, the team took a step backwards in the life cycle of the cell and collected skin cells known as fibroblasts from lab mice. These fibroblasts were then treated with a unique cocktail of molecules that transformed them into endoderm–like cells (cells found in an early embryo that transforms into major organs such as pancreas).
Using another chemical cocktail, these endoderm–like cells were transformed into cells which resembled the early pancreas–like cells. When tested in a petri dish, these cells secreted insulin. Thereafter, the researchers transplanted the pancreas–like cells into modified mice suffering from hyperglycaemia (high glucose levels, a key indicator of diabetes). Within a week of the transplant, it was noted that the rodents’ glucose levels dropped, but were again spiked when the cells were removed.