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Potential New Treatments on the Horizon for Type 1 Diabetes

Posted on March 31, 2018

shutterstock_1050407396People living with type 1 diabetes may soon have new treatment options.

A new study from the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine Diabetes Research has located stem cells in the pancreas with the ability to develop into the beta cells necessary for the body to respond to glucose and process insulin.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that affects around 1.25 million people in the United States, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Type 1 diabetes affects the body by reducing the amount of insulin the pancreas creates, which results in uncontrolled blood sugar. The JDRF also estimates that around 15 percent of those living with type 1 diabetes in the U.S. are under the age of 18.

Side effects of diabetes include an increased risk of cardiovascular health problems, kidney problems and frequent infections. Many patients living with diabetes also experience neuropathy, a nerve condition characterized by tingling, numbness and pain caused by damaging inflammation.

People with diabetes are also at risk of developing skin conditions and slow-healing wounds, leaving them at risk of infection and amputations.

“Diabetes is not just about checking blood sugar and watching what you eat. Most people do not realize the serious health complications and pain associated with diabetes,” said New York physician Dr. Joel Singer.

Diabetes researchers have long thought that there were stem cells in the pancreas with the ability to regenerate islets, the cells that create insulin. During this project, the Diabetes Research Institute study authors were able to locate these stem cells inside the pancreatic ductal and glandular network of the organ.

Once the stem cells were located, they were able to test their capacity to develop into glucose-responsive beta cells.

The DRI researchers believe that using these cells to create new beta cells will give people living with diabetes the opportunity to once again create insulin.

In their previous research, the study authors used a natural growth factor known as bone morphogenetic protein 7, or BMP-7, to develop stem cells in human non-endocrine pancreatic tissue grown in a lab.

BMP-7 is an FDA-approved growth factor.

In the current study, the DRI researchers searched for and extracted the stem cells of the pancreas to find those with the protein PDX1 and the cell surface receptor known as ALK3. PDX1 gives the cells the ability to develop into beta cells, while ALK3 enables the stem cells to develop into different types of tissues.

Once the stem cells were extracted, the DRI combined with the growth factor BMP-7 in the lab.

The result was the creation of insulin-producing beta cells.

The current DRI study is not the organization’s first attempt in trying to regenerate insulin-producing stem cells. Earlier efforts used adult stem cells, as well as embryonic and pluripotent stem cells, to help generate insulin production in individuals with type 1 diabetes.

The researchers are hopeful that by using an individual’s own stem cells to create insulin, they can provide an alternative treatment to conventional medications and insulin therapy. Using an individual’s own stem cells also means no chance of rejecting treatment compared to using cells taken from other humans or animals.

People living with type 2 diabetes may also benefit from this research. Type 2 diabetes, also known as acquired or adult onset diabetes, affects over 29 million people in the U.S., according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC estimates that 8 million of this number are undiagnosed.


Diabetes Research Institute Foundation. “Unique pancreatic stem cells have potential to regenerate beta cells, respond to glucose: Findings pave way for regenerative cell therapies in type 1 diabetes patients.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 February 2018.

Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Type 1 Diabetes Facts. 2018.



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