People with type-1 diabetes inject insulin to regulate blood-sugar levels because their immune system destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. It’s possible to make beta cells from stem cells, which can turn into almost any type of cell. But producing beta cells that work as well as the real thing and in sufficient quantities has been a struggle. Now, researchers have found a way to make fully functioning beta cells in the hundreds of millions required for cell-replacement therapy. When the beta cells (pictured) were transplanted into diabetic mice, they quickly began secreting insulin in response to glucose and relieved symptoms in two weeks. Human trials are still years away, but creating a renewable supply is a significant achievement. The challenge now is to perfect these lab-made beta cells and develop an encapsulation method to protect them from the patient’s immune system.
Written by Daniel Cossins
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