A team at the University of Alberta has developed a new step to improve the process of making insulin-producing pancreatic cells from a patient’s own stem cells, bringing the possibility of an injection-free treatment for people with diabetes closer.
Researchers take stem cells from a single patient’s blood and chemically turn them back in time, then proceed again through a process called “directed differentiation,” which eventually turns into insulin-producing cells.
In the study published this month, the team treated pancreatic precursor cells with an anti-tumor drug known as the AKT/P70 inhibitor AT7867. They reported that the method produced the desired cells at a rate of 90 percent, compared to previous methods that produced only 60 percent of the target cells. The new cells were less likely to form unwanted cysts and led to insulin injection-free glucose control in half the time of transplantation in mice. The team believes its efforts will soon be able to eliminate the final five to 10 percent of cells that do not become pancreatic cells.
“We need a stem cell solution that provides a potentially limitless source of cells,” said James Shapiro, Canada Research Chair in Transplant Surgery and Regenerative Medicine and head of the Edmonton protocol, which has allowed 750 transplants of donated islet cells. First developed 21 years ago. “We need a way to make those cells so that they are not seen and recognized as foreign by the body’s immune system.”
The researchers suggest that this safer and more reliable way to grow insulin-producing cells from a patient’s own blood may eventually allow transplants without the need for anti-rejection drugs. Recipients of donated cells must take anti-rejection drugs for life, and therapy is limited by the small number of donated organs available.
Shapiro says more safety and efficacy studies are needed before stem-cell-derived islet cell transplants are ready for human trials, but he is excited by the progress.
What we’re trying to do here is peer over the horizon and try to imagine what diabetes care will look like 15, 20, 30 years from now. I don’t think people inject insulin anymore. “I don’t think they’ll wear pumps and sensors.”
James Shapiro, Canada Research Chair in Transplant Surgery and Regenerative Medicine
Cuesta-Gomez, N., etc (2023) AT7867 Promotes Pancreatic Lineage Differentiation of Human iPSCs. Stem Cell Report. doi.org/10.1016/j.stemcr.2023.10.005.