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From Stems To Islets

On July 31, Israeli researchers turned human embryonic stem cells into a mass of islets which, in turn, produced insulin. However, the islets created from the stem cells did not shown that they could regulate insulin secretion based upon the body’s glucose levels.

The stem cells, according to a July 31 Reuters report, were derived from a human embryo days after fertilization and transformed, with chemical prodding, into the islets. The study was published in the August issue of the journal Diabetes, just over one week before President Bush made his announcement allowing a limited number of embryonic stem cells to be used for research.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, Technion; Israel Institute of Technology; and the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel.

“Up until this point, people have talked about the possibility that human stem cells could be made to produce insulin. But here it is being demonstrated,” said Christopher Saudek, MD, president of the American Diabetes Association and a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, in a telephone interview with Reuters.

The researchers stated they “cannot conclude that the cells are glucose unresponsive.” Saudek told Reuters, “You can say they have demonstrated that you can turn on the gas. What they haven’t demonstrated is that you have brakes and accelerators to control it. And that’s what you would need in a final use.”

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