Cellular research holds promise for diabetes
A Harvard University team has developed a method to transform adult cells to perform functions of cells damaged by diabetes.
SCIENTISTS have found a way to transform an adult cell to another type with a different function within a living animal, a promising development for eventual treatment of intractable human diseases and physical damage.
The discovery also mutes the heated political and ethical debate about research involving embryonic stem cells and could lessen immune system risks often associated with transplants.
In experiments with diabetic mice, a Harvard University team identified three key genes that directed cell conversion and turned common pancreatic cells into ones that produced insulin to regulate blood sugar.
The method could be used to treat not only diabetic patients but those with heart disease, spinal cord injuries, Lou Gehrig's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders by reprogramming cells to do the work of damaged cells.
Researchers cautioned that much remains to be done before the technique can be applied to humans, saying trials remain years away. But the Harvard results advanced regenerative medicine farther than expected, even as research using embryonic stem cells has been impeded by conservative objections.
Scientists had been focusing on turning back adult cells into an embryonic stage, a point when they readily grow into new tissues that can be transplanted. But the Harvard team successfully passed over that phase and moved directly to change adult cells, an easier and more productive strategy.
Cells in the pancreases of diabetic mice were manipulated from digestive functions to insulin production. Though the mice weren't cured, blood sugar levels fell to near-normal.
The study's senior researcher has strong motivation to seek new treatment. His children have Type 1 diabetes.
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