Researchers in Belgium, France and the USA have discovered stem cells in the pancreas of mice, which can generate new insulin-producing beta cells.
Scientists have been trying to prove the existence of these stem cells for a number of years. Until now, researchers have been able to show that new beta cells form under certain conditions, but they were thought to be from pre-existing beta cells that could sometimes be persuaded to divide, rather than from stem cells.
“This is an exciting finding and raises the possibility that adult pancreatic stem cells can be identified in humans," said Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Diabetes UK.
"If so, therapies could be designed that encourage these stem cells to replace the beta cells that are destroyed in Type 1 diabetes.
“However, it’s still early days for all stem-cell based therapies. Much more research, including proof that stem cells exist in human pancreas and ways to prevent the newly created cells from being destroyed, is required before we can begin to consider how they may be used to benefit people with diabetes.”
Diabetes UK currently funds several projects in the UK that involve human embryonic stem cells. The great hope is that insulin-producing cells can be generated from stem cells outside of the body, in preparation for transplant.