Hope to Cure for Diabetes is pinned on Personalized Stem Cells
The first embryonic stem cells that are disease specific were created using patient’s own DNA was recently announced. These cells have the potential to one day replace damaged or dysfunctional cells with the patient’s own healthy cells grown from the lab.
The New York Stem Cell Foundation’s Dieter Egli and Susan Solomon worked on these cells where the goal is to grow patient-specific stem cells to be used to replace dead or damaged cells.
Stem cells have the potential to treat diseases other than diabetes like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Beta Cells that morphed from Embryonic Stem Cells
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the beta cells that produce insulin in the pancreas become damaged. The ideal solution would be to replace these damaged cells with healthy beta cells that the body will accept because it is composed of the patient’s own genes.
Egli and his team create patient-specific embryonic stem cells using somatic cell nuclear transfer where they take skin cells from the patient and remove the nucleus and transfer it to a donor egg cell.
They nourish the egg to grow into a blastocyst – an embryo with 100 cells where some of the cells are pluripotent. Those cells are capable to turn into any cell type, thus Egli’s team directed the cells to grow into beta cells capable of producing insulin.
Cure for Diabetes still far
The problem with type 1 diabetes is that the immune system attacks the insulin producing beta cells treating them as foreign invaders. Even with the lab grown beta cells taken from the patient, the body’s immune system will still attack them
There is also the matter of where to harvest the human oocytes as these are precious and hard to retrieve, which involves hormonal treatment and minor surgery to the donor.
Not to mention that the procedure is also ethically and politically charged as it requires the destruction of the embryo. There is also anticipation of the process being wrongly used for cloning humans or creating designer babies.
Majority of labs that research stem cells utilize an alternative solution where they take adult stem cells and coax them to turn into pluripotent stem cells which has the ability to grow into different types of cells, like beta cells.
Both methods of producing stem cells have their own functions where pluripotent stem cells are more suitable for drug testing and mapping out diseases, whereas nuclear transfer is more suitable for cell replacement therapy.