Progenitor cells within human pancreas were stimulated and developed into beta cells, which are responsive to glucose. These significant findings were published in the journal Cell Reports, which paved the way for developing regenerative cell therapies, which is an important breakthrough for type 1 diabetic patients. This addresses a major challenge that blocks the way for discovering a complete cure for type 1 diabetes.
Pancreas harbors progenitor cells and has the potential of regenerating islets. This hypothesis has been established since many decades, but it has not been proven conclusively. Scientists were able to identify the exact anatomic location of stem cells. They validated their proliferative ability to transform into beta cells, which were responsive to glucose.
An in-depth study of pancreatic stem cells was used to tap into an endogenous cell supply ‘bank’ of beta cells, which were used for regeneration purposes. In the future, these stem cells could be used for therapeutic applications of people living with type 1 diabetes.. In our previous findings, BMP-7 was used to stimulate growth and induce stem cells to transform into functional islets.
In previous studies, it was reported that bone morphogenetic protein 7 (BMP-7), which is a naturally occurring growth factor, could be used for clinical applications and to stimulate progenitor-like cells within non-endocrine pancreatic tissue of humans.
In a recent study, researchers further demonstrated that stem cells responding to BMP-7 would reside within ductal and glandular network of pancreas. Pancreatic cells are characterized by the expression of PDX1 and ALK3. The protein PDX1 is required for the development of beta cells, whereas ALK3 is a cell surface receptor associated with regeneration of multiple tissues.
With the help of “molecular fishing” techniques, researchers could selectively extract cells that expressed PDX1 and ALK3. These cells were grown in a dish, and they proliferated in the presence of BMP-7. These cells were later differentiated into beta cells. The combined results of this study were used to develop regenerative cell therapies for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes patients.
In patients with type 1 diabetes, insulin-producing cells of pancreas were destroyed by the immune system. Patients had to manage their blood glucose levels with a daily regimen of insulin therapy. In patients with type 2 diabetes, insulin was produced to some extent but beta cells became dysfunctional over a period of time.
With islet transplantation, some type 1 diabetes patients could live without insulin injections. This is because they received infusions of donor cells; however, enough cells are not there to treat millions of patients with type 1 diabetes.
Presently, research studies have primarily focused on creating more pancreatic cells, which can be transplanted from sources like embryonic (hESc), pluripotent (hPSc) and adult stem cells, and porcine (pig) islets. It would be better to regenerate insulin-producing cells in patients, which prevents the need to completely transplant donor tissue and eliminate roadblocks to other immune-related disorders.
Regenerative medicine strategies must be developed to restore insulin production in native pancreas. This would replace the need for of pancreas transplantation or other insulin-producing cells. In patients with type 1 diabetes, autoimmunity abrogation must be stopped in order to prevent the destruction of immune system and newly produced insulin cells. For this purpose, efforts were made to converge immune tolerance induction that did not require anti-rejection drugs for a long period of time.