Stem cell derived therapies hold great promise for researchers working to find a cure for type 1 diabetes and according to a UWA research team’s work, they are one step closer.
Type 1 diabetes is characterised by abnormally high levels of sugar glucose in the bloodstream and it develops when the body's immune system sees its own cells as foreign and attacks them.
As a result, the islet cells of the pancreas, which normally produce insulin, are destroyed, and in the absence of insulin, glucose cannot enter the cell so it accumulates in the blood.
For decades, diabetes research has searched for ways to replace the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas that are destroyed by a patient's own immune system.
Many have turned their attention to embryonic stem cells because they can replicate indefinitely.
More recently, they have turned their attention to adult stem cells that appear to be precursors to islet cells and embryonic stem cells that produce insulin.
Bolstered by a recent grant from Diabetes Australia, UWA Associate Professor Fang-Xu Jiang’s research seeks to combat diabetes by driving the adult stem cells to Pdx1 cells to become insulin-secreting cells.
Pdx1 is necessary for pancreatic development and the maturation of beta-cells, which are present in the pancreas.
Prof Jiang says currently scientists around the world can only induce embryonic stem cells into pancreatic progenitors—marked by a key molecule known as Pdx1.
“So we have to differentiate pancreatic progenitors further into islet progenitors and the latter to insulin secreting cells,” he says.
Significantly, the last step – which is differentiating islet progenitors into insulin-secreting cells – has already been achieved by Prof Jiang’s group.
A progenitor cell, like a stem cell, has a tendency to differentiate into a specific type of cell.
But the most important difference is that stem cells can replicate indefinitely, whereas progenitor cells can divide only a limited number of times.
Prof Jiang says another challenge is trying to figure out how to get the Pdx1 stem cells to become islet progenitor cells.
“So that’s the project we are trying to do,” he says.
“But it’s not only our challenge, nobody in the world can do it and that’s why I get excited.
“We have already got some interesting results but we have to confirm it—we have to do much more research to verify it really works.
“Ultimately we want to be able to cure type 1 diabetes and some forms of type 2 diabetes and we want to be able to use cell therapy to cure them.”
Being ready for the breakthrough
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.
Store-A-Tooth™ work with your dentist to collect your child's tooth, which is shipped overnight to the 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.