This image shows the transplanted pancreatic beta cells derived from human embryonic stem cells.
Image credit: Jennifer Bruin, University of British Columbia
Senior study author Timothy Kieffer, of the University of British Columbia in Canada, and colleagues say the findings could lead the way for the first ever stem cell-based insulin replacement therapy being tested in humans with type 2 diabetes.
It is estimated that more than 29 million people in the US have diabetes. Type 2 diabetes accounts for around 90-95% of these cases. The condition occurs as a result of the body being unable to produce enough of the hormone insulin or use it effectively. This leads to high blood glucose levels.
In order to manage blood glucose levels, patients with type 2 diabetes are often treated with oral medication - such as metformin - insulin injections, or a combination of both. Kieffer and colleagues note, however, that such treatments can cause gastrointestinal problems, weight gain and low blood glucose levels, and some patients may not even respond to them.
With these factors in mind, the team tested a potential alternative treatment approach for patients with type 2 diabetes.
Improved glucose metabolism, insulin sensitivity with beta cell transplantation
The team created a mouse model of type 2 diabetes by inducing some markers of the disease in the animals - obesity, low response to insulin and high blood glucose levels - by feeding them a high-fat diet.
Next, the team transplanted mice with encapsulated pancreatic progenitor cells derived from human embryonic stem cells. These cells developed into fully-functioning beta cells - a type of cell in the pancreas that produces insulin - causing the mice to experience better glucose metabolism and an improvement in responsiveness to insulin.
What is more, mice that received stem cell transplantation in combination with antidiabetic medication experienced rapid weight loss, and - compared with either treatment alone - saw greater improvements in glucose metabolism.
Kieffer and colleagues now plan to test whether transplanting more mature beta cells into mouse models of type 2 diabetes - rather than pancreatic progenitor cells - could lead to faster alleviation of symptoms at a lower dose.
The researchers believe their approach could reach clinical trials in humans, particularly since a similar technique has recently been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada for testing in patients with type 1 diabetes. Kieffer comments:
"Success in these clinical trials could pave the way for testing in patients with type 2 diabetes. Our hope is that a stem cell-based approach to insulin replacement will ultimately improve glucose control in patients with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, resulting in healthier, longer lives."
Earlier this week, Medical News Today reported on a study by researchers from the University of East Anglia in the UK, in which they analyzed the global economic burden of type 2 diabetes.
The research reveals that patients with type 2 diabetes in the US have the highest lifetime health care costs related to the disease - at $283,000 - compared with countries that have similar average income levels.
Written by Honor Whiteman?