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Progress being made with stem cells

Scientists at the University of Cambridge are one step closer to developing insulin producing beta cells from human stem cells. In a study published in the journal Diabetologia the researchers identified the signals needed to turn stem cells in pancreatic progenitor cells (the type of cell that eventually become a beta cell). They found that a molecule called Actin, stops stem cells being turned into pancreatic cells and helps them become liver cells. By blocking Actin, the team could increase the number of stem cells becoming pancreatic cells.

Human stem cells can multiply in the lab and have the potential to be turned in to a plentiful supply of beta cells that could be transplanted into people with type 1, to replace the insulin producing cells that have been destroyed. Although some researchers have successfully turned mouse stem cells into beta cells, it is proving more difficult for human stem cells.

One of the major roadblocks to stem cell therapies is that methods to turn them into more specialised cells are not very reproducible and can produce variable results. By understanding more about the specific signals need to turn stem cells into beta cells, scientists can develop more robust and reproducible methods to make beta cells in the lab.

Maebh Kelly, Research Communication Officer at JDRF commented, ‘This study gives us more insight into the specific molecular processes that underpin the change from stem cells into pancreatic progenitor cells. Studies like this are important as we will need to understand much more about how stem cells develop before they can be used in clinical studies.’

Published in Diabetes research
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