Unlocking power of stem-cells to cure diabetes

5 July 2012

Dr. Timothy Kieffer (2006 MSFHR Senior Scholar) along with scientists from the New Jersey-based BetaLogics, a division of Janssen Research & Development, LLC have successfully reversed diabetes in mice using human embryonic stem cell transplants.

After the mice had the stem cell transplant, they were gradually taken off insulin. A few months later, they maintained healthy bloody sugar levels, even when fed large quantities of sugar. Once the stem cells were eventually removed, the mice's bodies were able to self produce insulin.

While this is clearly breakthrough treatment for diabetes, additional research is still needed. The mice used in this study weren't typical — they were a special strain, bred to be immuno-compromised so they wouldn't reject the human cells as foreign invaders. And like with any other experiment, the mice were subject to few side effects. Some mice developed bone or cartilage in areas where the cells were inserted, and others developed fluid-filled cysts. Even so, Kieffer is optimistic. He believes it is significant that the mice were able to live long and well even after gradually being taken off insulin.

Ongoing studies will include a closer look into how to obtain only the cells they want, which are the insulin-producing cells, and how to eliminate the undesirable ones, such as the cartilage-like ones.