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Behind the Headlines: Research breakthrough as experts reverse diabetes in mice

29 June 2012

JDRF-funded researchers in Canada have for the first time reversed type 1 diabetes in mice using human embryonic stem cells.

The team, led by Dr Timothy Kieffer, directed the stem cells most of the way towards becoming beta cells in the lab and the cells finally became mature beta cells once they were transplanted into mice.

Dr Kieffer turned stem cells into pancreatic progenitor cells which are the type of cell that becomes a beta cell and then transplanted them into mice. The environment around the pancreas of each mouse helped to turn the cells from pancreatic progenitor cells to beta cells and by five months after the transplant, the mice were producing their own insulin in response to glucose.

However, the team also needed to give the mice strong drugs to suppress their immune systems so that they would not reject the transplant.  This can be problematic for humans as it causes significant side effects, including reducing ability to fight off infections.

In type 1 diabetes, the cells in the immune system destroy the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas. Replacing or regenerating beta cells could give people with type 1 the ability to produce their own insulin.

However, beta cell therapies are unlikely to be a cure by themselves and will need to go hand in hand with better immune therapies that will selectively stop the part of the immune system that attacks beta cells.  In the future, this could prevent some of the side effects of beta cell transplants.

Sarah Johnson, Director of Policy and Communications  said ‘This is a step forward in our aim to be able to restore insulin production in people with type 1.  There is a lot more work to be done to build on this promising research, which is only made possible by the generosity of JDRF supporters worldwide,'

Find out more about how to support research to cure, treat and prevent type 1 diabetes.

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