Stem cells are cells that can develop into other types of cells. Embryonic stem cells can develop into a wide range of cell types.
In lab tests on mice, scientists at a San Diego company called Novocell grafted human embryonic stem cells into abdominal fat in mice. Before being implanted into the mice, those stem cells had been prepped to develop into pancreatic cells that get killed in type 1 diabetes.
Thirty days after implantation, the embryonic stem cells had morphed into pancreatic cells. And about two months after that, those pancreatic cells were up to speed at producing insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar.
The experiment proves the potential for embryonic stem cells to treat type 1 diabetes, note the researchers, who included Emmanuel Baetge, PhD.
But the process isn't yet ready for use in people.
Of the 46 grafts that Baetge's team transplanted into the mice, seven led to tumors. Scientists worldwide are working on ways to harness the potential of stem cells while minimizing health risks from stem cell treatment.
Baetge and colleagues report their findings online in Nature Biotechnology.