A team of researchers has brought the end of diabetes closer to reality by announcing a new breakthrough that could lead directly to a cure and not just a treatment for the disease.
The scientists discovered a protein that activates the maturation process in vitro, overcoming this longstanding obstacle in diabetes therapy development.
“In a dish, with this one switch, it’s possible to produce a functional human beta cell that’s responding almost as well as the natural thing,” says senior author Ronald Evans of the Salk Institute. “This has been a major blockade, and overcoming it has been a major challenge to the field.”
To create different cell types in the lab, stem cells must be coaxed down the road of determination, the branching paths that fetal cells normally travel to become neurons, skin cells, muscle cells, or any number of other cell types.
But there are many developmental points between a stem cell and a fully grown cell type, and for pancreatic beta cells, the stem cells have historically stalled out in an early stage when grown in the lab. “Everyone got stuck at this point,” says Evans.