Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is caused by a loss of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, requiring usually life-long management of the condition through the use of insulin. A key goal of regenerative medicine is to restore normal physiological function of the body. Stem cells provide such opportunity as scientists can now generate insulin-producing cells in unlimited quantities. One of the obstacles to grafting of such stem cells is that they may contain other cell types, which form adverse growths.
In a new paper now available in JCI Insight, Lina Sui, PhD and colleagues of the Egli laboratory at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University Irving Medical Center show that both of these issues have a solution. They showed that the differentiation of stem cells to insulin-producing cells can be increased by slowing their DNA replication, or the speed by which the DNA is duplicated. This simple pharmacological intervention also prevents the growth of grafts.
When tested in mice, the human stem cell derived beta cells can maintain normal blood glucose levels for the lifetime of the animal. This is a promising new approach to making stem cell derived grafts safer and ultimately available to the treatment for T1D. Separate studies to address immune rejection of new beta cells are also ongoing in parallel.
Dr. Sui received her Ph.D in Biomedical Science in 2012 from the diabetes research center of Vrije Universities Brussel. She joined Dr. Dieter Egli’s lab in 2014 for postdoctoral training. Lina has showed how human stem cell derived beta cells from a patient with diabetes can fully protect a mouse from diabetes. She continues to make great strides in this research area.