Researchers have been able to prod human cells that normally produce sperm to make insulin instead and, after transplanting them, the cells briefly cured mice with type 1 diabetes. "The goal is to coax these cells into making enough insulin to cure diabetes. These cells don't secrete enough insulin to cure diabetes in humans yet," cautioned study senior researcher G. Ian Gallicano, an associate professor in the department of Biochemistry and Molecular and Cellular Biology, and director of the Transgenic Core Facility at Georgetown University Medical Center, in Washington D.C.
Gallicano and his colleagues will be presenting the findings Sunday at the American Society of Cell Biology annual meeting in Philadelphia. Type 1 diabetes is believed to be an autoimmune disease in which the body mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. As a result, people with type 1 diabetes must rely on insulin injections to be able to process the foods they eat. Without this additional insulin, people with type 1 diabetes could not survive.
Doctors have had some success with pancreas transplants, and with transplants of just the pancreatic beta cells. There are several problems with these types of transplants, however. One is that as with any transplant, when the transplanted material comes from a donor, the body sees the new tissue as foreign and attempts to destroy it. So, transplants require immune-suppressing medications. The other concern is that the autoimmune attack that destroyed the original beta cells can destroy the newly transplanted cells.