Stem cells carry high hopes to help treat and possibly cure a myriad of diseases. However, the use of stem cells is a subject of great debate do to the fact that the best source for stem cells for use in this type of research is from human embryos.
Reuters reports that researchers from California-based Novocell Inc. recently used human embryonic stem cells to treat diabetes in mice. The stem cells were implanted into mice and were turned into “nearly” normal insulin-producing cells in the mice.
The animal trial hints at a possible long term treatment for diabetes. According to MSNBC at least 170 million people globally have diabetes with the number of afflicted expected to double by 2030. Those afflicted with one of the two types of diabetes, types 1 and 2, can’t use or create enough insulin to regulate glucose in the blood.
The researchers used embryonic stem cells from discarded embryos from fertility clinics. Batches of the stem cells were then grown by the researchers in lines in other human cells. Emmanuel Baetge, Novocell chief scientific officer says, “Our data provide the first compelling evidence that human embryonic stem cells can serve as a renewable source of functional insulin-producing cells for diabetes cell replacement therapies.”
These embryonic stem cells created by the researchers are said to be able to live virtually forever in lab dishes and produce generations of new cells. Baetge says that at first the team was able to produce hormone-producing or endocrine cells, but that each cell produced a mishmash of hormones instead of the specifically insulin producing cells they were aiming for.
The problem with growing the right cell led the researchers to implant the stem cells into a mouse where Baetge says something in the mouse directed the cells to mature properly. Baetge told MSNBC in a phone interview, “[Stem cells] are producing all the right enzymes and release insulin in response to glucose.”
Novocell says it is now looking for a large pharmaceutical company to partner with to fund further research. DailyTech reported in December 2007 that researchers had been able to create stem cells artificially and use the cells to cure sickle cell in mice.