The study, published in the journal Laboratory Investigation, involves bone marrow cells, which are a source of stem cells -- master cells that have the capacity to grow and develop into a variety of cell types, including pancreas cells that produce insulin.
Type 1 diabetes develops when the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas are destroyed. Insulin is a hormone that moves glucose (a sugar) from the blood into the body's cells, where it can be used for energy or stored for later use.
In this study, stem cells were chemically coaxed in the laboratory to become insulin-producing cells. The new insulin-producing cells were transplanted into mice that had type 1 diabetes. The cells readily adapted to their environment and were able to produce insulin and other hormones necessary for normal blood sugar levels.
"We have shown that the manipulation of bone marrow cells toward being capable of secreting insulin may be accomplished with relative ease," writes lead researcher Seh-Hoon Oh, PhD, with the University of Florida in Gainesville.
A stem cell can become an insulin-producing cell in just 10 days, she adds, "thus providing an accessible cell source and a simple method for the cellular treatment of diabetes.
"Our results suggest that bone marrow cells may provide researchers a powerful tool in the study of pancreatic [cell] development and function, as well as offering a new potential instrument" for the treatment of type 1 diabetes, she writes.
SOURCE: Oh, S. Laboratory Investigation online, March 22, 2004. WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise: "Type 1 Diabetes."