Researchers at the biotechnology company Novocell have published a report detailing the use of human embryonic stem cells to control diabetes in mice. The report was published earlier this week in Nature Biotechnology.
In the laboratory, researchers directed the cells to become precursors of pancreatic beta cells, the cell type that is damaged in diabetes. The precursor cells were then transplanted into mice, where they continued to develop, eventually becoming mature pancreas cells with the ability to control blood sugar levels. This work provides firm proof-of-principle that such experiments could work in humans, though any clinical application is still years away.
Health officials have characterized the increasing prevalence of diabetes worldwide as an epidemic. With over 20 million Americans suffering from diabetes – approximately 7% of the population – and 170 million worldwide, developing treatments or even cures for diabetics is a high research priority.