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Hope for Diabetes sufferers: Scientists discover cells in the pancreas that could be manipulated into producing insulin.



  • Successful strategies for treating type 1 diabetes, to restore the function of the pancreas beta cells that are destroyed by the immune system and to overcome further destruction of insulin-producing cells.
  • This strategy could represent a new therapeutic approach.


Scientists have effectively treated animals with a mouse version of type 1 diabetes by inducing pancreatic cells that do not usually create insulin to manufacture the protein, a study published by the University of Pittsburgh school of medicine.

The research team didn’t believe that the experiment would work- since type 1 diabetes arises when the immune system turns on cells that naturally produce insulin, researchers predicted that inflammation would quickly wipe out the engineered cells also.

The studies co-author George Gittes, a physician scientist at the Children’s hospital of Pittsburgh stated that, “Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the body is reacting to the insulin-producing cells and killing them off and we don’t really know why.” He also said, “If you gave patients new insulin cells with a transplant, it will kill them off. If we use gene therapy to get the body to make new insulin-producing cells in the body, logically it should attack those cells too.”

Gittes and his research team created an adeno-associated virus to transfer genetic material that would direct alpha cells in the pancreas to produce insulin, which is usually the job of the beta cells. The next step delivered the virus directly to the pancreas of mouse models of type 1 diabetes.

Reports presented that the animals blood glucose levels stayed at normal levels until the engineered cells were wiped out months later. The scientists are now developing a strategy in non-human primates and hopes to eventually bring to clinical trials.


Further Reading:
Endogenous reprogramming of alpha cells into beta cells, induced by viral gene therapy, reverses autoimmune diabetes: Published January 4, 2018: https://www.cell.com/cell-stem-cell/fulltext/S1934-5909(17)30472-1?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS1934590917304721%3Fshowall%3Dtrue