Insulin Producing Beta Cells Made From Patient's Own Fat

Researchers have created beta cells from stem cells extracted from fatty tissue

In type 1 and late stage type 2 diabetes the body doesn't have enough functional beta cells to produce insulin, which has catastrophic effects. Next generation stem cell treatments are now focusing on creating new beta cells, and researchers have demonstrated that beta cells could be created from a patient's own tissue. 

What did they do?

After extracting stem cells present in adult adipose (fat) tissue, they used a complex gene network system to control levels of 3 growth factors - Ngn3, Pdx1 and MafA. Stem cells present in fat aren't as flexible as embryonic cells for example, but they're better able to morph into other cell types than your average cell. Control of these 3 factors at different time points triggered cellular reprogramming, turning them into beta cells. Concentrations of these naturally rise and drop in the body's own creation of beta cells, so mirroring them was really important. 

A pancreatic islet containing beta cells

The new system is an improvement on old methods, which relied on manually adding factors by pipette. The final beta cells closely resembled their counterparts, even containing the characteristic dark spots which store insulin. They were also able to respond to glucose levels and churn out insulin, although not quite as effectively as natural ones quite yet. 

The main advantage of the novel system is that the beta cells at the end are the patient's own cells. This means that their immune system likely won't reject them, which removes many of the complications that have plagued previous research. Hopefully with further work these cells can be implanted in diabetic patients, reducing the need for injections. 

Read more at Gizmag