Cord Blood Stem Cells Engineered to Produce Insulin

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By: Linda von Wartburg

Given that babies are born by the cartloads every day, cord blood is an easy source of fetal stem cells, especially because it’s free of the controversy surrounding embryonic stem cells.

Now U.S. and British researchers have reportedly harvested a batch of stem cells from cord blood and then engineered the cells to resemble beta cells, the insulin-producing pancreatic cells that are destroyed in type 1 diabetes. The stem cells apparently did produce insulin, and a little C-peptide also was found in the test tube, confirming that the insulin had been generated by the stem cells.

On the other hand, recent research concluded that beta cells reproduce themselves and do not come from adult stem cells. That research found that adult stem cells, although they are precursors of new skin, intestines, and other tissues, apparently do not differentiate into beta cells or other pancreatic tissue.

For these reasons, states our board member Dr. Nancy Bohannon, she has been advising her type 1 patients to bank the cord blood of their children for the past decade, in the hope that eventually scientists will be able to use it to develop functional, glucose-responsive beta cells.

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