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Turning stem cells into beta cells

Project summary

Evaluating a decellularised pancreas matrix for islet bioengineering and diabetes therapy

In diabetes, insulin-producing beta cells are destroyed or stop working properly. New beta cells can be made in a lab, and Dr Hill wants to find ways to improve this process. This could help scientists to improve the effectiveness of islet cell transplants to treat Type 1 and 2 diabetes.

Background to research

In Type 1 diabetes, insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas are destroyed by the immune system. In Type 2 diabetes, the same cells stop working properly. Scientists are testing ways to transplant beta cells into people with diabetes so they are able to make the insulin they need to control blood glucose levels. This is currently possible for some people with Type 1 diabetes, where they receive new cells from a donor pancreas. In order to improve this, we need more beta cells to transplant.

Most cells in the body have a particular purpose. Stem cells are different and can develop into many different types of cells, including beta cells (a process known as stem cell differentiation). But so far, new beta cells made with this method haven’t worked very well. Dr Hill wants to test a new method, to improve the number of beta cells produced and how well they work.

Research aims

Dr Hill will look at ways to produce fully working beta cells from stem cells. In the body, beta cells are surrounded by a supportive structure that’s known as an extracellular matrix. Dr Hill and her team will use a different type of matrix (taken from a mouse pancreas), to see if this can support the stem cells to turn into functioning beta cells. They will then transplant the new beta cells into mice, to see if they could potentially be used to treat Type 1 diabetes.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

If we can establish the best method to create fully functioning beta cells, it could lead to more successful islet transplants to treat Type 1 diabetes. Producing an unlimited supply of beta cells in the lab opens up exciting treatment strategies for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in the future.

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