Researchers Coax Leftover Pancreatic Cells to Morph Into Insulin-Producing Cells

Using a growth factor produced naturally by the human body—and used in spinal-fusion surgeries—scientists from the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine have coaxed “leftover” cells from the pancreas to morph into insulin-producing islet cells. In a study set for publication in the December issue of the journal Diabetes, the reprogrammed cells churned out about as much insulin as healthy human islet cells.

islet insulin producing cellsUsing BMP-7, the research team induced islet-like clusters from the exocrine cells as shown by several markers, including insulin expression (green, top left) and C-peptide (red, top right). C-peptide is a by-product of insulin expression by the cells and is used to demonstrate the production of natural insulin as opposed to the possibility that cells are simply absorbing insulin from the culture medium. Additionally, the reprogrammed cells show the expression of PDX1, a key marker of beta cell function (red, bottom right).Transplanted into lab mice and rats, the new islets released their blood sugar-lowering hormone in response to increases in blood glucose levels—just like the real thing. “That’s the hallmark of functioning islet cells, the ability to sense and respond to blood glucose levels,” notes the study’s co-lead investigator Juan Dominguez-Bendala, Ph.D., director of stem cell development for translational research at the DRI … read more