Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine have transformed cells from human skin into cells that produce insulin, the hormone used to treat diabetes.
The breakthrough may one day lead to new treatments or even a cure for the millions of people affected by the disease, researchers say.
The approach involves reprogramming skin cells into pluripotent stem cells, or cells that can give rise to any other fetal or adult cell type, and then inducing them to differentiate, or transform, into cells that perform a particular function – in this case, secreting insulin.
Several recent studies have shown that cells can be returned to pluripotent state using "defined factors" (specific proteins that control which genes are active in a cell), a technique pioneered by Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, a professor at Kyoto University in Japan.
However, the UNC study is the first to demonstrate that cells reprogrammed in this way can be coaxed to differentiate into insulin-secreting cells. Results of the study are published online in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
"Not only have we shown that we can reprogram skin cells, but we have also demonstrated that these reprogrammed cells can be differentiated into insulin-producing cells which hold great therapeutic potential for diabetes," said study lead author Yi Zhang, Ph.D., Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UNC and member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
"Of course, there are many years of additional studies that are required first, but this study provides hope for a cure for all patients with diabetes," said John Buse, M.D., Ph.D., president of the American Diabetes Association and professor and chief of the endocrinology division in the UNC School of Medicine's department of medicine.
About 24 million Americans suffer from diabetes, a disease that occurs when the body is unable to produce or use insulin properly. Virtually all patients with type I diabetes, the more severe of the two types, must rely on daily injections of insulin to maintain their blood sugar levels.
Recent research exploring a possible long-term treatment – the transplantation of insulin-producing beta cells into patients – has yielded promising results. But this approach faces its own challenges, given the extreme shortage of matched organ donors and the need to suppress patients' immune systems.
The work by Zhang and other researchers could potentially address those problems, since insulin-producing cells could be made from diabetic patients' own reprogrammed cells.
Zhang is collaborating with Buse to obtain skin samples from diabetes patients. He said he hoped his current experiments will take this approach one step closer to a new treatment or even a cure for diabetes.
The research was funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Institutes of Health. Study co-authors include postdoctoral fellows Keisuke Tateishi, M.D.; Jin He, Ph.D.; Olena Taranova, Ph.D.; Ana C. D'Alessio, Ph.D.; and graduate student Gaoyang Liang, all from the UNC School of Medicine's department of biochemistry and biophysics.
- PHYSICAL SCIENCES
- EARTH SCIENCES
- LIFE SCIENCES
- SOCIAL SCIENCES
Subscribe to the newsletter
Stay in touch with the scientific world!
Know Science And Want To Write?
- Great Earthquakes Doubled In The Most Recent 10 Year Period - What That Means
- What Americans Fear Most Isn't Ebola Or Terrorism, It's...
- ECFA Workshop: Planning For The High Luminosity LHC
- Why Climate 'Uncertainty' Is No Excuse For Doing Nothing
- Moderate Pot Use By Adolescents Doesn't Hurt IQ
- Dams Are Not The Smart Way To Secure Water For Agriculture
- Cosmic Rays Jeopardize Deep-Space Astronaut Missions
- "An interesting read, but perhaps not ideal for me to make one of my hot-headed comments right off..."
- "“I accept that if my child kicks lions, this will irritate them, but a range of factors will..."
- "Yes in fact it is free, I just looked it up in the Apple Store. Actually you have it backwards..."
- "You believe in every possibility? So you believe in gods and in an absence of gods, all at the..."
- " Actually no, the millions of volts of potential energy is not a magical perpetual motion pipe..."
- Beyond universal donors, some poeple are programed with no blood type at all
- Anti-conventional ag movement spurs Big Ag to look to organic pesticides
- Can people really inherit memories?
- An end to fat shaming? The 50 year DNA mystery of metabolic dysfunction may soon be solved
- Egg freezing: a smart career move?
- Women carry fetal DNA long after children’s birth
- Global consumption an increasingly significant driver of tropical deforestation
- An effective, cost-saving way to detect natural gas pipeline leaks
- Susceptibility for relapsing major depressive disorder can be calculated
- Indiana Project screenings show need for more mental health services in youth detention
- Aphthous ulcers: Causes of mucosal inflammation are unclear