by Steven Ertelt
May 25, 2007
Galveston, TX (LifeNews.com) — Advocates of embryonic stem cell research and the disease industry in America are convinced that using stem cells that are only derived from destroying human embryos is the only way to help those with diabetes. Yet, scientists continue to make progress with adult stem cells.
Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston say they have made a fundamental discovery that someday may help cure type 1 diabetes.
The research could allow people to grow their own insulin-producing cells for a damaged or defective pancreas. That’s because the scientists say they have engineered adult stem cells derived from human umbilical cord blood to produce insulin.
The researchers announced their laboratory finding, which caps nearly four years of research, in the June 2007 issue of the medical journal Cell Proliferation, posted online this week. Their paper calls it "the first demonstration that human umbilical cord blood-derived stem cells can be engineered" to synthesize insulin.
"This discovery tells us that we have the potential to produce insulin from adult stem cells to help people with diabetes," Dr. Randall J. Urban, senior author of the paper, told LifeNews.com in a press statement.
Urban is the professor and chair of internal medicine at UTMB’s Nelda and Lutcher Stark Diabetes Center.
Stressing that the reported discovery is extremely basic research, Urban cautioned: "It doesn’t prove that we’re going to be able to do this in people — it’s just the first step up the rung of the ladder."
UTMB professor of internal medicine/endocrinology Larry Denner, said that by working with adult stem cells rather than embryonic stem cells, doctors practicing so-called regenerative medicine eventually might be able to extract stem cells from an individual’s blood, then grow them in the laboratory to large numbers and tweak them so that they are directed to create a needed organ.
In this way, he said, physicians might avoid the usual pitfall involved in transplanting cells or organs from other people — organ rejection, which requires organ recipients to take immune-suppressing drugs for the rest of their lives.
Denner said this research, which reflects a fruitful collaboration with co-authors Drs. Colin McGuckin and Nico Forraz at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne in the United Kingdom, used human umbilical cord blood because it is an especially rich source of fresh adult stem cells and is easily available from donors undergoing Caesarian section deliveries in UTMB hospitals.
The researchers said they tested adult stem cells in the laboratory to ensure that they were predisposed to divide. Then they used a previously successful method in which complex signals produced by the embryonic mouse pancreas were used to direct adult stem cells to begin developing, or "differentiating," into islet-like cells.
As they grew these adult stem cells in the laboratory, the researchers conducted other tests in which the cells to be engineered showed evidence of a characteristic, or marker, known as SSEA-4 that was previously thought to exist only in embryonic cells.
They also found that, just as embryonic cells have been shown to do, these adult stem cells produced both C-peptide, a part of the insulin precursor protein, and insulin itself.