Researchers from Philadelphia have just discovered that beta cells,the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, divide, albeit slowly,to make new beta cells. Adult stem cells, which are precursors ofnew skin, intestines, and other tissues, apparently do notdifferentiate into beta cells or other pancreatic tissue.
Instead,beta cells replicate themselves, basically functioning as their ownstem cells.
Dr. Jake A. Kushner and his team were able to see the process occurby giving rats a sequence of colored dyes in their drinking water.The idea was that dividing cells would be all the same color; thatis, the color of the single cell from which they came. Theresearchers were able to see clusters of beta cells in the pancreasthat were all the same color, indicating that one cell had dividedinto many cells.
In contrast, the colors of cells in the rats' intestine were blended, indicating that they had divided multiple times from specialized cells – possibly from adult stem cells.
The researchers hope that this finding will eventually lead to anunderstanding of how to induce beta cells to divide and replenishtheir numbers in people who have type 1 diabetes.