Stem cells are the body's mechanics, repairing damaged tissues and organs. Because these cells are able to grow into any type of cell in the body, scientists believe they hold the key to groundbreaking new therapies.
To help further this research, scientists have found a new way to culture cells in 3D - a significant step forward for regenerative medicine.
Essentially, since your body is three-dimensional, it makes sense that stem cells do their best repair work in 3D as well. By growing these cells in 3D, researchers are better able to see how these cells behave in conditions that more closely resemble those in the body.
Scientists from The Danish Stem Cell Center (DanStem) at the University of Copenhagen are contributing important knowledge about how stem cells develop best into insulin-producing cells. In the long term this new knowledge can improve diabetes treatment with cell therapy.
The results have just been published in the scientific journal Cell Reports.
Stem cells are responsible for tissue growth and tissue repair after injury. Therefore, the discovery that these vital cells grow better in a three-dimensional environment is important for the future treatment of disease with stem cell therapy.
"We can see that the quality of the cells produced two-dimensionally is not good enough. By putting the cells in a three-dimensional environment and giving them the proper growth conditions, we get much better results. Therefore we are developing a three-dimensional culture medium in gelatine in the laboratory to mimic the one inside an embryo,"
says Professor Anne Grapin-Botton from DanStem at the University of Copenhagen, who produced the results together with colleagues from Switzerland and Belgium.
The international research team hopes that the new knowledge about three-dimensional cell growth environments can make a significant contribution to the development of cell therapies for treating diabetes. In the long term this knowledge can also be used to develop stem cell treatments for chronic diseases in internal organs such as the liver or lungs. Like the pancreas, these organs are developed from stem cells in 3-D.
From stem cells to specialised cells
The research team has investigated how the three-dimensional organisation of tissue in the early embryonic stage influences development from stem cells to more specialised cells.
"We can see that the pancreas looks like a beautiful little tree with branches. Stem cells along the branches need this structure to be able to create insulin-producing cells in the embryo. Our research suggests that in the laboratory beta cells can develop better from stem cells in 3-D than if we try to get them to develop flat in a Petri dish,"
explains Professor Grapin-Botton.
"Attempts to develop functional beta cells in 2-D have unfortunately most often resulted in poorly functioning cells. Our results from developing cells in 3-D have yielded promising results and are therefore an important step on the way to developing cell therapies for treating diabetes."
A recent study published in the Journal of Dental Research showed that stem cells from teeth can produce insulin in a glucose responsive manner – early research which means dental stem cells might one day play a role in treating type 1 diabetes.
What's new and noteworthy?
This study involved stem cells from baby teeth - taken out during routine dental care of children, age 7-11 years old.
Here are some key takeaways:
- The study used stem cells from children's baby teeth to create islet-like cell aggregates that produced insulin in a glucose-dependent manner, a first step towards a potential cure for type 1 diabetes.
- This is the first time this has been done with stem cells from teeth. Stem cells can be preserved from any healthy tooth – each child loses all 20 of their baby teeth naturally, and may later have teeth taken out for braces, or wisdom teeth extracted.
- According to the researchers, this finding might enable "cell replacement for type 1 diabetes... by autologous transplantation of islet-like cell aggregates differentiated from a patient's own teeth." In simpler terms, this means a patient's own dental stem cells might be able to be used to create pancreatic islet cells that produce insulin, which might be able to then be transplanted into that individual, eliminating the need for the immunosuppressive medications necessary when a donor's cells are used for transplant.
Is your child losing a baby tooth or having teeth extracted?
With Store-A-Tooth, you can save your children's own stem cells, from baby teeth that are naturally falling out or from healthy teeth being extracted, such as wisdom teeth. We work with your dentist to collect your child's tooth, which is shipped overnight to our laboratory where the sample is prepared for long-term storage. Cryopreservation has been used for years to store stem cells from cord blood as well as other types of blood samples and human tissues.
For more information about ongoing stem cell research for diabetes and the benefits of preserving your own or your family's stem cells, download an info kit.