Copenhagen: A new stem cell study conducted at the University of Copenhagen shows how we may increase the vital production of insulin in patients suffering from diabetes. The discovery helps to more efficiently at less cost make insulin-producing beta cells from human stem cells. Therefore, the research paves the way for more effective treatment of diabetes. The method may also prove significant to the treatment of a series of other diseases.
415 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with diabetes. And
the number continues to rise. Common to all diabetes patients is that
they lack the ability to produce sufficient amounts of insulin, which
regulates the blood sugar in the body. This can lead to a number of
complications and in many cases be potentially fatal.
A new study conducted at the University of Copenhagen, which has just
been published in the internationally acclaimed journal Nature Cell
Biology, shows how researchers using human stem cells can produce
insulin-producing cells that in the future can be transplanted into
‘By identifying the signals that instruct mouse progenitor cells to
become cells that make tubes and later insulin-producing beta cells, we
can transfer this knowledge to human stem cells to more robustly make
beta cells, says Professor and Head of Department Henrik Semb from the
Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Biology at the Faculty of
Health and Medical Sciences.
research group, which in addition to Henrik Semb consists of Ph.D.
Zarah Löf-Öhlin and assistant professor Pia Nyeng, among others,
originally set out to study how the body creates the complex piping
systems that transport fluids and gasses in our organs.
They wanted to understand the machinery for instructing progenitor
cells into their different destinies. To their surprise, the mechanism
turned out to be simple. According to Assistant Professor Pia Nyeng,
these processes are mainly controlled by the progenitors’ ability to
tell up from down (the cells’ so-called polarity).
Hormone-producing cells (green and red) in the pancreas are formed in close contact with the piping system (blue)
‘It turns out that the same signal – the so-called epidermal growth
factor (EGF) pathway – control both the formation of pipes and beta
cells through polarity changes. Therefore, the development of pancreatic
progenitor into beta cells depends on their orientation in the pipes.
It is a really amazing and simple mechanism, and by affecting the
progenitor cells’ so-called polarity we can control their conversion
into beta cells’, says Pia Nyeng.
Click for large image.
Exciting Potential for Diabetes Treatment
study is mainly based on tests performed on mice, but the researchers
decided to examine whether the same mechanism can be found in human
’Zarah Löf-Öhlin discovered that the same cell maturation mechanism
applies to the development of human cells. Now we can use this knowledge
to more efficiently turn human stem cells into beta cells in the
laboratory with the hope to use them to replace lost beta cells in
patients suffering from diabetes’, says Henrik Semb.
The researchers expect regulation of cell polarity to be key to the
development of many other human cell types, for example nerve cells.
This may contribute to the development of stem cell therapy targeted at
The article ‘EGFR signalling controls cellular fate and pancreatic organogenesis by regulating apicobasal polarity’ has been published in Nature Cell Biology.
Professor Henrik Semb
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