Severe diabetics are often treated through a technique called islet transplantation, but this transplantation method has certain limitations. Researchers have recently demonstrated that that using a certain type of stem cell, called the mesenchymal stem cell, can improve the ability of islet transplants to improve diabetes in patients.
Those who suffer from Type 1 diabetes experience the destruction of beta cells in the pancreas. Islet transplantation is a means for reconstructing these cells that are lost during the progression of diabetes, but the long-term effects of traditional islet transplantation are limited, and the transplants often have to be performed a number of times on any given patient. Part of the problem is that the beta cells in the islets are easily damaged or killed once they are isolated for transplantation purposes and do not easily proliferate into other cells.
Unlike islets, mesenchymal stem cells are less vulnerable, highly proliferative, and differentiate into several cell types. They also have the added benefits of promoting healthy vasculature and immune activity. Given these benefits of mesenchymal stem cells, scientists hypothesized that combining the function of beta cells with the abilities of mesenchymal stem cells would produce a more effective therapy for diabetes than islet transplantation alone. To achieve this result, Shoichiro Sumi’s team decided to fuse these cell types together.
In a study published in PLOS One, researchers demonstrated how to successfully overcome the technical difficulty of fusing mesenchymal stem cells to islet cells for the purposes of treating diabetes. The fused cells were associated with markers that indicated that the cells were less susceptible to death than islet cells are alone and that they also proliferated more than islet cells generally do.
Having cleared the technical hurdle of fusing islet cells with mesenchymal stem cells and showing that this technique is successful in creating cells that are more robust than islet cells, researchers are now poised to test the ability of these cells to improve therapeutic interventions for those with severe diabetes. If the researchers can show that fewer transplants or longer-term results can be achieved with these fused cells, islet transplantation for diabetics may be transformed.
Yanai, G. et al (2013). Electrofusion of mesenchymal stem cells and islet cells for diabetes therapy: a rat model. PLOS One, 8(5), 1-9.