Diabetes 'cured' with brain stem cells

14 October 2011

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Category: Research & medical benefits

white–rat–lab.jpgStem cells taken from a rat's brain using a simple procedure have been made to produce insulin and used to cure diabetes in the same rat. The technique didn't require any genetic manipulation and the researchers claim it could be possible to apply it in humans.

At least 171 million people worldwide suffer from diabetes, or nearly three in every hundred of the population, and that number is expected to rise rapidly as high-fat diets become more popular around the world.

Researchers extracted tissue from the brains of rats and isolated stem cells. The procedure did not harm the rats. Next, they exposed the cells to Wnt3a – a human protein that switches on insulin production – and also to an antibody that blocks a natural inhibitor of insulin production.

After growing enough cells, the scientists attached them to a thin natural membrane of collagen which they surgically placed onto the rat's pancreas without damaging the organ itself.

Within a week, insulin levels in treated rats matched those in non-diabetic rats. High blood glucose concentrations also returned to normal. Later, when the sheets of cells were removed from the pancreas, the diabetes returned.

The region of the brain the stem cells were taken from is accessible through the nose in humans, so the technique could be adapted for use in humans. This could provide an alternative to the daily insulin injections used by millions of diabetes patients worldwide.