Insulin-Producing Cells
Grown In Lab Could Revolutionize Diabetes Treatment
By Penny Stern, MD, MPH
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Freeing diabetics from the need to inject insulin would revolutionize the treatment of this very common disease. Transplanting insulin-producing pancreatic tissue into diabetics is one promising treatment--but limited by the scarcity of such tissue.
Now, from researchers at the Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard Medical School comes word of the successful growth of insulin-producing tissue, carried out in the laboratory.
In the July 5th issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Susan Bonner-Weir and colleagues at the Boston, Massachusetts center describe their use of pancreatic duct cells to grow pancreatic islet-tissue whose beta cells are the source of human insulin.
"We have been able to expand human duct tissue and then to direct its differentiation to islet...cells (in the laboratory),'' the researchers write ``The ability to cultivate human islets...opens a new approach for beta cell replacement therapy.''
As Bonner-Weir explained to Reuters Health, researchers in Canada recently demonstrated that transplanting islets into diabetics enabled the patients to dispense with the need to inject insulin.
``The need for a new source of human islets has been emphasized by (the Canadians') stunning success (with) islet transplantation,'' she said.
``The importance of our work is that our (laboratory) approach, once optimized, might generate meaningful amounts of new human islets from tissue that otherwise would have been discarded,'' Bonner-Weir added. ``We're like alchemists changing lead into gold.''
According to their report, the team was ``impressed'' by earlier work using rat pancreases that demonstrated the unusual ''capacity of adult pancreatic duct cells to both expand and differentiate.'' The group theorized that these adult cells might be able to be modified, under the right conditions, into cells that could become islet cells.
Over a period of 3 to 4 weeks, the researchers noted that the growing tissue produced ``islet-like structures that we have called cultivated human islet buds (CHIBs),'' the report indicates.
``Our first observation of the CHIBs was a eureka moment: the formation of three-dimensional structures with islet buds was far more striking than (what) we expected,'' Bonner-Weir said.
As to when these results might translate into an actual therapeutic option for diabetics, Bonner-Weir said, ``It is always difficult to predict a time course for science. We hope that the efforts of our group, and others around the world, will lead to optimization of this approach and good yields of human islet tissue within only a couple of years.''
SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2000;97:7999-

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