Diabetes is a disorder, characterized by problems with production and/or processing of insulin. One of the new approaches to treatment of type I diabetes currently considered promising involves stem cells and their conversion into beta cells – cells which are tasked with secretion of insulin. Usually, insulin is produced by beta cells in pancreas but people with diabetes sorely lack those cells. The usual approach right now and the backbone of the therapy is direct insulin injection into the blood stream. However, scientists found out that it’s possible to convert human stem cells into pancreatic beta cells, which opened new horizons in diabetes therapy.

In a new research, published in Nature Biotechnology, team of researchers from the University of Washington in St. Lewis, led by Jeffrey Millman has outlined a more effective cell conversion method. Previously, the same team already worked on successfully managing symptoms in diabetic mice with beta cells, converted from stem cells. However, the new method allows for even better results.

“These mice had very severe diabetes with blood sugar readings of more than 500 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL)— levels that could be fatal for a person — and when we gave the mice the insulin-secreting cells, within 2 weeks their blood glucose levels had returned to normal and stayed that way for many months.,” said Millman. “You need about a billion beta cells to cure a person of diabetes. But if a quarter of the cells you make are actually liver cells or other pancreas cells, instead of needing a billion cells, you’ll need 1.25 billion cells. It makes curing the disease 25% more difficult.”

This new method is focused on removal of unnecessary cells after transformation, which is achieved through precision work with cytoskeleton, which is a structure of a cell in cytoplasm. The team was able to not only increase beta cell output but improve their capabilities. Then, these new and improved cells were injected into the diabetic mice, making them, for all intents and purposes free of the disease up to 9 months.

Obviously, this is only a single animal model, which means that it would be impractical to apply these findings to humans. However, Millman’s team is planning to continue research on bigger animals and eventually, prepare their approach for proper, human clinical trials.