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Diabetes Mellitus: A Potential Target for Stem Cell Therapy

[ Vol. 1 , Issue. 2 ]


Christopher J. Burns, Shanta J. Persaud and Peter M. Jones   Pages 255 - 266 ( 12 )


Type 1 diabetes mellitus has received much attention recently as a potential target for the emerging science of stem cell medicine. In this autoimmune disease, the insulin-secreting β-cells of the pancreas are selectively and irreversibly destroyed by autoimmune assault. Advances in islet transplantation procedures now mean that patients with the disease can be cured by transplantation of primary human islets of Langerhans. A major drawback in this therapy is the availability of donor islets, and the search for substitute transplant tissues has intensified in the last few years. This review will describe the essential requirements of a material designed as a replacement β-cell and will look at the potential sources of such replacements. These include embryonic stem (ES) cells and multipotent adult stem/progenitor cells from a range of tissues including the pancreas, intestine, liver, bone marrow and brain. These stem cell populations will be evaluated and the different experimental approaches that have been employed to derive functional insulin-expressing cells will be discussed. The review will also look at the capability of human ES (hES) cells generated by somatic cell nuclear transfer and some adult stem cell populations such as bone marrow-derived stem cells, to offer autologous transplant material that would remove the need for immunosuppression. In patients with Type 1 diabetes, auto-reactive T-cells are programmed to recognise the insulin-producing β-cells. As a result, for therapeutic replacement tissues, it may be more sensible to derive cells that behave like β-cells but are immunologically distinct. Thus, the potential of cells derived from non-β-cell origin to avoid the autoimmune response will also be discussed. Finally, the review will summarise the future prospects for stem cell therapies for diabetes and will highlight some of the problems that may be faced by researchers working in this area, such as malignancy, irreproducible differentiation strategies, immune-system rejection and social and ethical concerns over the use of hES cells


Diabetes mellitus, Stem cells, Pancreatic β-cell, Differentiation, Insulin, Islet Transplantation


Division of Immunology and Endocrinology, NIBSC, Blanche Lane, South Mimms, Potters Bar Herts.EN6 3QG, UK.

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