Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Insulin-Producing Cells

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Insulin-Producing Cells

Article excerpt

Researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC) School of Medicine have transformed cells from human skin into cells that produce insulin, the hormone used to treat diabetes. The breakthrough may one day lead to new treatments or even a cure for the millions of people affected by the disease, researchers say.

The approach involves reprogramming skin cells into pluripotent stem cells, or cells that can give rise to any other fetal or adult cell type, and then inducing them to differentiate, or transform, into cells that perform a particular function--in this case, secreting insulin. Several recent studies have shown that cells can be returned to pluripotent state using "defined factors" (specific proteins that control which genes are active in a cell), a technique pioneered by Shinya Yamanaka, a professor at Kyoto University in Japan. However, the UNC study is the first to demonstrate that cells reprogrammed in this way can be coaxed to differentiate into insulin-secreting cells. Results of the study are published online in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

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"Not only have we shown that we can reprogram skin cells, but we have also demonstrated that these reprogrammed cells can be differentiated into insulin-producing cells (see image) which hold great therapeutic potential for diabetes," says lead author Yi Zhang, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UNC, and member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. …

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