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New Stem Cell Discovery for Diabetes

Pancreatic Stem Cells Found in Mice; Discovery May Lead to Treatment for Diabetes Patients
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 24, 2008 -- Scientists today announced that they have found pancreatic stem cells in mice.

That discovery may lead to stem cell treatments for diabetes patients, if pancreatic stem cells can be found in people.

The mice's pancreatic stem cells were rare and hard to find. They only appeared when the pancreatic duct, which connects the pancreas to the small intestine, was injured.

In lab tests, the researchers coaxed the pancreatic stem cells to develop into insulin-making pancreatic cells called beta cells.

In type 1 diabetes, beta cells are destroyed, making it impossible for the body to produce insulin, which controls blood sugar. Type 2 diabetes also involves insulin problems, but not necessarily the destruction of beta cells.

The scientists call for further studies to see if it's possible to find pancreatic stem cells in people and spur those pancreatic stem cells to develop into new beta cells.

If so, that might be a way to generate beta cells for transplantation into diabetes patients. Or perhaps it's possible to stimulate pancreatic stem cells in diabetes patients, skipping the cell transplantation step, the scientists note.

They included Harry Heimberg, PhD, of the Diabetes Research Center at Belgium's Vrije Universiteit Brussels. Their report appears in tomorrow's edition of Cell.

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