People with diabetes have to follow a strict diet and regularly give insulin injections, which reduces the amount of glucose in the blood. Researchers at the University of Washington have found a simpler and longer — term way to control glucose-they forced stem cells to turn into beta cells that produce insulin on their own, naturally. It sounds promising, because people can at least temporarily forget about the need for injections or even heal, but the new technology can cause other problems.
Scientists already know the method of converting skin cells into so-called induced IPS stem cells, which can take the form of any other cell in the body. The researchers were able to turn them into beta cells, but they worked, as scientists put it, like fire hydrants — either produced too much insulin, or did not do it at all.
Study author Jeffrey Millman announced that they finally managed to find a recipe that creates cells with optimal insulin production. The effectiveness of new cells has been tested on diabetic mice-they could not produce insulin on their own, but the introduced cells were able to provide them with so much substance that much improved their condition. Most importantly, the production lasted several months in a row, so that the mice did not need injections. It was also noted that created by beta cells in organisms with diabetes were more active than the same cells in the body healthy people.
It would seem that this technology should be urgently applied to people and make their lives easier, but it is too dangerous. The fact is that for the introduction of new cells it is necessary to weaken the body’s immunity so that it does not reject them — this is too dangerous an idea in relation to people. But scientists already know how to solve this problem:
First, the cells can be encased in something like a gel — with pores small enough to prevent immune cells from penetrating, but large enough to allow insulin to escape. Another idea is to use gene editing tools to modify beta cell genes so that they can “hide” from the immune system after implantation.
Time will tell whether these two solutions will be effective. Fortunately, other groups of scientists are also working on developing remedies for diabetes. For example, in September last year, they found that the disease can be cured simply by blocking one protein.