New Hope for Diabetics
Recently discovered stem cells give hope to people living with diabetes. The possibility exists for stem cells, discovered in the pancreases of laboratory mice, to grow into new insulin producing pancreas cells. The new cells may someday restore the insulin producing beta cells so critically missing in type I diabetes.
Within the cell research community, there has been strident debate about the existence of identifiable stem cells in the pancreas. After years of suspecting their existence, scientists isolated adult progenitor stem cells in mice pancreases. One of the unique discoveries is that the cells can grow into more cells by differentiation and proliferation (versus self-duplication of existing beta cells alone).
The most recent discovery comes from the JDRF Center at Vrije Universiteit Brussels, in Belgium, and the Beta Cell Biology Consortium. Their findings were published in the January 28 Cell Magazine.
Their work confirms studies completed at Harvard and the University of Washington cell research centers, which determined the existence of multipotent progenitor cells. Those findings were published in the July 2007 Cell Magazine. They are a step closer to discovering the unknown potential of developmental progenitor cells.
“One of the most interesting characteristics of these (adult) progenitor cells is that they are almost indistinguishable from embryonic progenitors,” explained Harry Heimberg, a co-author of the study. “The most important challenge now is to extrapolate our findings to patients with diabetes,” He cautions that applications for humans are not in the immediate future and considerable research is required.
This is an encouraging development because of the debate surrounding embryonic stem cells, which are derived from fetuses. President Bush has worked to assure that many stem cell research projects do not get federal funding, and some researchers feel stymied in their desire to forward controversial embryonic involved studies. The rancor, however, does not extend to adult stem cells and progenitor stem cells.
While the debate may rage over whether the government should fund stem cell research, money is coming from many other sources. The National Institutes of Health distributes in the vicinity of $640 million a year for stem cell research, with some 6 percent going toward the contentious human embryonic cells.
However, organizations such as the American Diabetes Association and other special interest groups support projects through fundraising, as well. State governments have earmarked grants; with California alone dedicating more than $200 million for human embryonic research. Diabetics have much to look forward to in the race to unlock the mechanisms of a microscopic cell.