Cell Therapy May Be a Possibility for Patients with Type 1 Diabetes

Improved blood glucose control was elicited from the transplantation of reprogrammed pancreatic cells.

The authors of a recent study were able to reprogram liver cells into pancreas progenitor cells in mice, which may eventually lead to cell therapy techniques for patients with diabetes.

In patients with type 1 diabetes, their immune system attacks islet cells located in the pancreas. Without islet cells, the pancreas is unable to make insulin. A lack of insulin results in increased blood glucose levels, and eventually, diabetes.

Since patients with type 1 diabetes are typically diagnosed as children, controlling blood glucose levels early in life is important. Patients must be treated with daily insulin injections to control blood glucose. If levels are not controlled, patients may face adverse health outcomes, such as permanent organ damage or hospitalization.

Currently, daily insulin injections are the only treatment option available to patients with type 1 diabetes. It is clear that novel methods to treat this condition are needed, and according to new findings, cell therapy may be an option in the future.

The authors of the study, published by Nature Communications, have successfully taken liver cells and reprogrammed them into a less specialized state. These former liver cells were then developed into pancreatic cells. This promising approach of growing new pancreatic cells in vitro may provide a long-lasting treatment for patients with type 1 diabetes, according to the study.

The authors found that the TGFI2 gene plays a vital role in this process, since it is active in the pancreas. In the study, the investigators examined how mouse liver cells reacted to receiving additional copies of TGFI2.

When administered copies of the TGFI2 gene, the cells were observed to lose their hepatic properties, and acquire properties of pancreatic cells, according to the study. The investigators then transplanted the reprogrammed cells into mice models of diabetes.

After the cells were transplanted, the mice were observed to have improved blood glucose control, which suggests that the reprogrammed cells may be an effective replacement for missing islet cells.

While more research needs to be done, these preliminary findings could lead to cell therapy for human patients with diabetes a possibility.

The next step is to see if human patients could benefit from reprogrammed cells. The research team is currently testing the strategy on human liver cells, according to the study.

"There are differences between mice and humans, which we still have to overcome," Dr Spagnoli concluded. "But we are well on the path to developing a 'proof of concept' for future therapies."