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[IP] Hormone-treated stem cells could help diabetics

Health News brought to you directly from
Reuters Health Information
Last Updated: 2002-07-17 11:00:42 -0400 (Reuters Health) 
By Keith Mulvihill 

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A naturally occurring intestinal hormone may
one day lend a hand to diabetics by providing them with
insulin-producing cells, new study findings suggest.

The hormone, glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), is released in response to
food intake, helping to regulate blood levels of sugar, or glucose, lead
investigator Dr. Joel F. Habener of Massachusetts General Hospital in
Boston told Reuters Health.

In type 1 diabetes, which generally strikes children, the immune system
launches a misguided attack against pancreatic cells called beta cells,
which produce insulin. Patients are left with low or nonexistent levels
of the sugar-regulating hormone, and must take daily insulin injections
to survive.

For recovery from type 1 diabetes to be possible, the body's supply of
beta cells would have to be replenished. One experimental approach is to
transplant islets, which are clusters of cells containing beta cells.
Unfortunately, the scarcity of donors and the risk that the immune
system will destroy the transplanted cells limit this option.

In the current study, the researchers found that when they took human
islet stem cells and grew them in the lab, they could coax them to
become insulin-producing cells by exposing them to GLP-1, Habener
explained. The findings are published in the August issue of the journal

Stem cells are immature cells with the capability of maturing, or
differentiating, into several different types of body cells. In earlier
research, Habener and his colleagues demonstrated that islet stem cells
can be found in the islets and ducts of the pancreas.

Transplanting functioning insulin-producing cells made from a diabetic
person's own stem cells would eliminate the risk of rejection by the
body, while further exposure to GLP-1 could help maintain these
transplanted cells and even induce the production of additional ones,
Habener explained in an interview with Reuters Health.

However, Habener emphasized that this was only "speculation." Referring
to the current findings, he said, "it's a nice discovery, but we have a
long way to go."
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