Scientists turn skin cells into insulin producing ones


Washington : Scientists have turned skin cells into cells producing insulin – the hormone used in treating diabetes, that may help find a cure for the millions affected by the condition.

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The approach involves reprogramming skin cells into pluripotent stem cells, or cells that can give rise to any other foetal or adult cell type, and then inducing them to transform into specialised cells that perform a particular function – in this case, secreting insulin.

Several recent studies have shown that cells can be returned to pluripotent state using “defined factors” (specific proteins that control which genes are active in a cell), a technique pioneered by Shinya Yamanaka, professor at Kyoto University, Japan.

“Not only have we shown that we can reprogramme skin cells, but we have also demonstrated that these reprogrammed cells can be differentiated into insulin-producing cells which hold great therapeutic potential for diabetes,” said the study co-author Yi Zhang, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and professor of biochemistry at University of North Carolina.

“Of course, there are many years of additional studies that are required first, but this study provides hope for a cure for all patients with diabetes,” said John Buse, chief of endocrinology division in the UNC School of Medicine, reports Eurekalert.

About 24 million Americans suffer from diabetes, a disease that occurs when the body is unable to produce or use insulin properly. Virtually all patients with type I diabetes, the more severe of the two types, must rely on daily injections of insulin to maintain their blood sugar levels.

These results are online in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.