Magazine article Science News

Better Beta: Cells Grown in Lab May Treat Diabetes

Magazine article Science News

Better Beta: Cells Grown in Lab May Treat Diabetes

Article excerpt

Scientists have found a way to produce large amounts of a type of pancreas cell that doctors have already successfully transplanted into people with type 1 diabetes. The cells, collected from donors, have been in such short supply (SN: 6/19//04, p. 398) that only 1 percent of people in need have received transplants.

Establishing a lab-grown line of beta cells could overcome this shortage, says Ji-Won Yoon of Chicago Medical School in North Chicago, Ill. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system kills beta cells, eliminating the body's source of insulin. Without that hormone, tissues can't process sugar, so people with diabetes rely on insulin injections.

In the October Nature Biotechnology, Yoon and an international team of researchers report a beta cell-production technique that could, in principle, solve the supply problem. Central to their technique is what the researchers call a "reversibly immortalized" line of human beta cells.

First, the researchers extracted beta cells from pancreases collected from human cadavers. Then, because these cells tend to die quickly outside the body, the team supplied them with genes that perpetuate cell replication.

Such immortalizing of cells comes with a risk: The cells may grow into tumors. To counter that, the researchers included a mechanism to shut off the replication. They incorporated a molecular marker that guides a DNA-excising enzyme to the site of the added genes. The excision is timed to take place after large amounts of beta cells have been produced but before the cells are transplanted. …

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