Israeli researchers have found that stem cells derived from adult pancreatic cells are more efficient at making insulin-producing cells than stem cells derived from embryos. Scientists at Tel Aviv University theorize that the cells retain a “memory” of what they were before they were coaxed into becoming stem cells. That memory includes the ability to produce insulin. Because of it, the adult stem cells are better at forming insulin-making cells than their embryonic counterparts.
Stem cells, whether derived from embryos or adults, are considered “pluripotent,” which means they have the ability to differentiate into many different cell types. Scientists sees them as potential building blocks for organ reconstruction.
For people who have type 1 diabetes, which results from an autoimmune attack that destroys their pancreatic beta cells, the Israeli research suggests that stem cells might someday be used to reconstruct functioning beta cells. A stem cell-based therapy would be a welcome alternative to organ transplants, which can lead to organ rejection or a lifetime of taking immune-suppressing drugs.
Because the new beta cells would come from a patient’s own body, there would be less likelihood of outright rejection. However, because type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, stem cell research will have to go hand-in-hand with treatments that inhibit the autoimmune attack on beta cells.
The study was published in Cell Stem Cell, the official affiliated journal of the International Society for Stem Cell Research.