Diabetes is often linked to obesity but about one in 10 cases is caused by the immune system destroying insulin-making cells in the pancreas. An important step towards preventing this disease, called type 1 diabetes, has been taken by scientists experimenting with mesenchymal stem cells, pictured, which are known to have powerful immune-suppressing effects. In mice prone to type 1 diabetes, these stem cells were engineered to create an adhesive surface molecule – also found on some other cell types – that sticks to inflamed tissue. When the mice began to develop diabetes, the modified stem cells lodged in the swollen islets, or cell clusters, inside the pancreas, protecting them from further damage from the immune system and reversing the onset of the disease. However, much more research will be needed before this type of treatment can be considered for humans.
Written by Mick Warwicker