Researchers at Cedars-Sinai’s Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute have found that a blood vessel-building gene boosts the ability of human stem cells to support pancreatic recovery in laboratory mice with insulin-dependent diabetes.
The findings, published in a PLoS ONE article of the Public Library of Science, offer new insights on mechanisms involved in regeneration of insulin- producing cells and provide new evidence that a diabetic’s own bone marrow one day may be a source of treatment, according to a Cedars-Sinai statement.
Scientists began studying bone marrow-derived stem cells for pancreatic regeneration a decade ago.
Recent studies involving several pancreas-related genes and delivery methods — transplantation into the organ or injection into the blood — have shown that bone marrow stem cell therapy could reverse or improve diabetes in some laboratory mice, according to the statement. But little had been known about how stem cells affect beta cells — pancreas cells that produce insulin — or how scientists could promote sustained beta cell renewal and insulin production.
When the Cedars-Sinai researchers modified bone marrow stem cells to express a certain gene (vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF), “pancreatic recovery was sustained as mouse pancreases were able to generate new beta cells,” the statement said.
“Our study is the first to show that VEGF contributes to revascularization and recovery after pancreatic injury. It demonstrates the possible clinical benefits of using bone marrow-derived stem cells, modified to express that gene, for the treatment of insulin-dependent diabetes,”
said Dr. John S. Yu, professor and vice chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai and senior author of the journal article.
Diabetes was reversed in five of nine mice treated with the injection of VEGF-modified cells, and near-normal blood sugar levels were maintained through the remainder of the six-week study period, according to Cedars-Sinai.