Researchers take a step forward in their search for a cure for diabetes. A new study done in mice shows cells from the spleen appear to develop into insulin producing pancreatic islet cells. This could lead to a broad application for patients with diabetes.
The latest research is a follow up to the 2001 report of a treatment that cures advanced type 1 diabetes in mice. The new research focuses on the biological mechanism behind that accomplishment. David Nathan, M.D., director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Centers, says: "These exciting findings in a mouse model of type 1 diabetes suggest that patients who are developing the disease could be rescued from further destruction of their insulin-producing cells. In addition, patients with fully established diabetes possibly could have their diabetes reversed."
Type 1 diabetes happens when the body's immune cells mistakenly attack the insulin producing islet cells of the pancreas. As islet cells die, insulin production ceases and blood sugar levels rise. This causes damage in organs throughout the body. In the first study, researchers retrained the immune system not to attack the islet cells. But researchers were not clear if the islet cells were there or if they were regenerated. The latest research shows islet regeneration was occurring and that cells were growing from both the recipient's own cells and from the donor cells.
In order to determine how the new islet cells had developed, researchers carried out the same treatment using spleen cells from healthy male donors to re-educate the immune cells of female diabetic mice. Using male and female mice, researchers could see if the cells had Y chromosomes. A separate experiment also found the regrowth of islet cells can occur in animals that have immune system re-education to eradicate their diabetes, but do not receive the donor cells.
Researchers have developed a protocol to test this approach in humans, but additional grant money is needed before a clinical trial can begin.