It May Take ‘Guts’ to Cure Diabetes

Jul 9, 2014

By Bioscience Technology

By switching off a single gene, scientists at Columbia University’s Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center have converted human gastrointestinal cells into insulin-producing cells, demonstrating in principle that a drug could retrain cells inside a person’s GI tract to produce insulin.

The new research was reported today in the online issue of the journal Nature Communications.

“People have been talking about turning one cell into another for a long time, but until now we hadn’t gotten to the point of creating a fully functional insulin-producing cell by the manipulation of a single target,” said the study’s senior author, Domenico Accili, the Russell Berrie Foundation Professor of Diabetes (in Medicine) at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC).

The finding raises the possibility that cells lost in type 1 diabetes may be more easily replaced through the reeducation of existing cells than through the transplantation of new cells created from embryonic or adult stem cells.

For nearly two decades, researchers have been trying to make surrogate insulin-producing cells for type 1 diabetes patients. In type 1 diabetes, the body’s natural insulin-producing cells are destroyed by the immune system.

Although insulin-producing cells can now be made in the lab from stem cells, these cells do not yet have all the functions of naturally occurring pancreatic beta cells.

This has led some researchers to try instead to transform existing cells in a patient into insulin-producers. Previous work by Accili’s lab had shown that mouse intestinal cells can be transformed into insulin-producing cells; the current Columbia study shows that this technique also works in human cells.

7 comments on “It May Take ‘Guts’ to Cure Diabetes

  • Wow! Really amazing! I hope it all works out as expected. But it will be a blow to some pharmaceutical companies whose present drugs might become obsolete.

    In any case, I’m always amazed and thankful that in spite of so many terrible things going on in the world and with the ups and downs of the economy over the years, etc that medicine and science in general keep on advancing!

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  • 2
    kiki5711 says:

    That is great research. I noticed it says
    “body’s natural insulin-producing cells are destroyed by the immune system.”

    Since the immune system is our front line battle ship, my question would be first why is the immune system doing that, and is there something you can do about that first. Eliminating the possibilities from that end first. And also by replacing those cells that are being rejected, how will the immune system react, and/or will it be affected in some way, because it’s function is super important for the rest of the organs.

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  • I’ve been a Type I diabetic for 40 years. Every year we hear about new treatments/cures that are only 5 years away. So, I take this news with a grain of salt.

    If a cure or artificial pancreas were developed & widely adopted, it would allow me to stop many of my expensive prescriptions. Pharmaceuticals & their respective stock holders would NOT be happy.


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  • Hi kiki5711. This is the nature of autoimmune disorders, of which Type I (but not Type II) diabetes is but one. It is an abnormal immune response against your own body, usually in the form of autoantibodies; in the case of diabetes against the insulin producing islet cells (among others).

    As for what you can do about it, in some cases with autoimmune disorders you can actually directly manage the disease state itself, as with diabetes (via supplemental insulin), however with many other autoimmune disorders (lupus, multiple sclerosis, etc) you can only manage symptoms. A lot of work remains to be done in this sphere of medicine. The research noted above is meaningful work.

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  • This is wonderful work, but, in the UK the number of people with a Body Mass Index of 35 or over is disgracefully high, and the precious NHS is having to deal with the resulting incidences of diabetes at great expense to us all, including those of us who do not over eat and who do sufficient exercise.

    It would take far too long to go into detail about why so many people are FAT, so suffice it to say that if they don’t pull themselves together, they’ll not only run the risk of early death, and – “Death is expensive Miss Stella.” Tennessee Williams. – but they’ll provide an excuse for the Health Service, our Health Service, to be sold off to the friends of certain individuals in high places, who are waiting in the wings, or should it be corridors, to make a killing; pun intended.

    None of this is to detract from the awe inspiring science of this work, but simply to point out that never before in human history have we been in such a fortunate position regarding knowledge about ourselves and our World, and it’s inexcusable in wealthy nations to be ignorant of the fact.

    So, those of you with a too high B M I – ooh it rhymes – do us all a favour; get off the f!*^ing sofa, and go for a walk/bike ride/swim, or go to the gym, or what ever, and stop eating too much!

    Harrumph, harrumph!

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