July 3, 2013

Insulin Making Cells Multiply in Test Tubes

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200173050-001There is a shortage of cold bodies to  service the needs of people waiting for diabetes-curing islet cell transplants. The answer to this biological quagmire may be right around the corner. PLoS One has published a study showing that researchers have grown functioning insulin-producing cells in a test tube.

“Until now, there didn’t seem to be a way to reliably make the limited supply of human beta cells proliferate in the laboratory and remain functional,” says Michael McDaniel, professor of pathology and immunology at Washington University in St. Louis. “We have not only found a technique to make the cells willing to multiply, we’ve done it in a way that preserves their ability to make insulin.”

The current treatment of an islet cell transplant, requires 2 or 3 deceased donors to make 1 islet cell transplant possible. This may or may not result in someone being free from needing insulin injections.

Is this too good to be true? Apparently not. When beta cells are bathed in this solution, they reproduced at a  rate 20 times higher than when beta cells are in a solution that contained the sugar glucose.

On another vote of confidence, the proliferation rate of the insulin-producing cells seems too good to be true. Can this type of exponential growth cultivate the extremely dangerous pancreatic cancers? Rest assured, researchers found that none of the factors known to contribute to pancreatic cancer were active in the laboratory-grown beta cells.

“Another benefit in using this novel growth medium to expand isolated human beta cells is that the cells remain healthier and have reduced levels of cell damage or death,” Aly says. “That may also reduce the chances of immune system rejection.”

This catalyzing solution may be a game changer for the people, like me, on a waiting list for an islet cell transplant. Science never ceases to impress me. It’s kept me alive thus far. It’ll keep me going till the road ends.

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