Awhile back, three macaque monkeys with type 1 diabetes received transplants of 19 pig pancreas primordia, each one smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.
Primordia are embryonic cells. Unlike stem cells, however, which can become any type of cell, primordia are destined to become pancreatic cells.
Because they are embryonic, primordia do not elicit the immune response triggered by more mature pancreatic cells. As a result, the monkeys did not require any immunosuppressive drugs. Within several weeks of the transplants, the cells became established, matured and began producing pig insulin.
It’s been two years now for one of the monkeys, and the pig insulin it produces has reduced its need for injected insulin by 50 percent. A second monkey is 10 months post-transplant, and its need for injected insulin continues to decline. The third monkey, sadly, died of unrelated reasons.
The researchers believe that additional transplants should entirely eliminate the monkeys’ need for injected insulin. They hope eventually to conduct clinical trials in humans using the same technique.
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Source: Washington University in St. Louis Record, November 2007