Beta cells from stem cells – EurekAlert


IMAGE: The staining shows CD177-derived beta-like cells stained with antibodies against insulin (green) and against the beta cell transcription factor MAFA (red). view more 

Credit: ©Helmholtz Zentrum München

The loss of insulin-secreting beta cells by autoimmune destruction leads to type 1 diabetes. Clinical islet cell transplantation has the potential to cure diabetes, but donor pancreases are rare. In a new study, a group of researchers developed an improved pluripotent stem cell differentiation protocol to generate beta cells in vitro with superior glucose response and insulin secretion. This is a major step towards beta cell replacement therapy.

Human pluripotent stem cells (either human embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent stem cells) can differentiate into every cell type of the human body with unlimited self-renewing capacity. Hence, pluripotent stem cells are an optimal source to generate specialized cell types for cell replacement therapy, e.g. beta cells for diabetic patients. However, current in vitro beta cell differentiation protocols are very complex due to the high number of differentiation steps. The process requires almost 20 signaling proteins and small molecules to regulate the growth and differentiation of the cells and lasts for more than four weeks. Within this multi-step process not all cells differentiate into the targeted cells but take wrong