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Human-Insulin Producing Stem Cells

Feb 13, 2015

Success in finding new stem cells that can produce insulin…

Type 1 diabetes is caused by autoimmune disease that leads to the destruction of insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas. The destruction of beta cells in the pancreas can be treated by transplant of pancreatic beta cells or cadaveric pancreatic organs. However, due to very small number of available donors, majority of patients are on the waiting lists for pancreas transplant. In this study, a University of Iowa team led by Nicholas Zavazava, internal medicine professor, and his team found new stem cells that can produce insulin and reduce blood sugar levels.


The authors hypothesized that human induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells can be directly differentiated into insulin producing cells.

The researchers used reprogrammed human skin cells to create induced pluripotent stem cells. At first, human induced pluripotent stem cells proficiently generate CXCR4-expressing endodermal cells. By using a step by step approach, the authors finally generated pancreatic precursor cells that were Pdx1, a master transcription factor that regulates the development of the pancreas. To identify the ability of these stem cells, this differentiated cells were transplanted under the kidney capsules of diabetic immunodeficient mice.

The results demonstrated that serum glucose levels declined slowly to either normal or near normal levels over 150 days. This result can be explained that the stem cells were secreting insulin. Using MRI, a 3D organoid appeared as a white patch on the transplanted kidneys. These organoids shown in MRI is to confirm that this were pancreatic in nature and this new organoids stained positive for insulin and glucagon. In addition, after mice became normoglycemic, the serum glucose levels maintained steady. By using this step by step approach, the authors were able to remove immature stem cells that may lead to a tumor.

The authors concluded that a pancreatic organ can be created in vivo and that induced pluripotent stem cells may be a new option for the treatment of type 1 diabetes. The authors also stated that using induced pluripotent stem cells rather than embryonic stem cells would not only eliminate the need to wait for a donor pancreas, but can receive transplants without taking immunosuppressive drugs.

Practice Pearls:

  • Induced pluripotent stem cells has demonstrated that this treatment may be the novel option for type 1 diabetes.
  • After gradually reduced serum glucose levels, mice have demonstrated steady levels of serum glucose.
  • More studies are necessary to avoid any potential side effects and to confirm efficacy.

Raikwar SP, Kim EM, Sivitz WL, el al. Human iPS Cell-Derived Insulin Producing Cells Form Vascularized Organoids under the kidneys Capsules of Diabetic Mice. PLOS ONE. January 2015; 10:1371.