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Brain Stem Cells Coaxed to Produce Insulin

Finding could eventually lead to cure for diabetes, researcher suggests

MONDAY, April 25, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have found a way to transform neural stem cells into insulin-producing cells -- a discovery that could one day lead to a possible cure for the blood sugar disease diabetes.

That's the claim of a study published in the April 26 issue of PLoS Medicine.

The idea is to use these transformed cells to replace lost insulin-producing islet cells in the pancreas.

In research with neural stem cells in a lab dish, Stanford University researchers developed a specific combination of chemicals that prompted the neural stem cells to mature into insulin-producing cells. They ended up with cells that produced insulin and released it in response to sugar.

However, these transformed neural stem cells don't perfectly mimic human islet cells. They still produce some proteins found in neurons and make some, but not all, proteins normally produced by islet cells.

Even so, the fact that the cells made insulin in response to sugar was exciting, the researchers said. In the next phase of research, the cells were tested in mice. After four weeks, the cells had survived, continued to produce insulin, had not changed into other types of cells, and had not formed tumors.

The amount of insulin produced by the cells wasn't enough to treat diabetes. However, this is an important first step towards that goal, the researchers pointed out.

"The more ways we discover to form insulin-producing cells from stem cells, the more likely it is that stem cells can be used for islet replacement," study author Dr. Seung Kim, an assistant professor of developmental biology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

More information

The U.S. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse has more about diabetes.

SOURCE: Stanford University, news release, April 25, 2005
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