Researchers described a number of ways that stem cells may be able to help diabetes patients in an article published in the journal Pancreas. According to the researchers, stem cells can be particularly helpful for the development of regenerative therapies, which, instead of treating the disease through drugs or interventions that aim to improve the functioning of diseased tissue, work by promoting the actual regeneration of tissue through processes that mimic normal development.
The main problem cause for diabetes is dysfunctional insulin signaling. Insulin is a hormone that controls blood sugar levels. When it is not working properly, blood sugar levels are not kept in check, and a number of detrimental effects can occur. For regenerative therapies for diabetes to work, they need to create new tissues in the pancreas, where insulin is formed. Cells known as islets of Langerhans are particularly important because they cells produce insulin.
Liver-derived oval cells have been shown to differentiate into pancreatic cells and so may be useful in regenerative therapies for diabetes. There is also some evidence to suggest that stem cells known as duct epithelium-like cells can differentiate into clusters of cells similar to islets of Langerhans. Further, these types of cell clusters have been shown to impact blood sugar levels, suggesting they can also function similarly to islets of Langerhans. Other stem cells, including those from bone marrow and amniotic membranes also show some promise for developing into cells that produce insulin.
The article published in Pancreas helps establish the significant promise that stem cells have for aiding in the development of a new treatment option for diabetic patients that does not rely on the direct administration of insulin itself but instead supports regeneration of dysfunctional tissue. Given that that a number of stem cell types have proven to be candidates for such an approach to therapy, further research will likely help to identify the best way that stem cells or combinations of stem cells can be used to help diabetics better regulate their blood sugar levels.