An international team of scientists has isolated pancreatic stem cells in adult mice, a breakthrough that could lead to treatment for juvenile or Type 1 diabetes, researchers said in a study published Thursday.
Scientists have for some time been searching for stem cells in the pancreas, which have the potential of restoring the organ's insulin-making capacity so crucial in maintaining adequate blood sugar levels in the body.
The researchers hope to program the mice pancreatic stemcells to generate new insulin-producing beta cells.
"One of the most interesting characteristics of these (adult) progenitor cells is that they are almost indistinguishable from embryonic progenitors," said Harry Heimberg of the JDRF Center at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, in Belgium, and the Beta Cell Biology Consortium, a co-author of the research.
Stem cells are the body's basic cells that can produce all of the tissues of the body.
"The most important challenge now is to extrapolate our findings to patients with diabetes," Heimberg said, cautioning however that any potential stem-cell based diabetes therapy remains far into the future.
Juvenile or Type 1 diabetes affects five to 10 percent of the 20 million Americans suffering from diabetes. Its causes are different to adult-onset, or Type 2 diabetes, which is often linked with obesity and high blood pressure.
The disease results from an abnormality in the body's ability to regulate the blood's level of insulin, an essential hormone which tells the body to store or burn sugar.
There is no known treatment for Type 1 diabetes outside of rare stemcell transplants from cadavers into the liver of a sick patient.
Juvenile or Type 1 diabetes, which typically occurs in childhood and early adolescence and is associated with genetic predisposition, is usually managed with life-long, daily insulin injections and rigorous diets.
The study was published in the January 25 issue of Cell magazine.