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Stem Cells

Turning Stem Cells into Insulin-Producing Cells

Stem cells hold tremendous potential as a source of insulin-producing cells that could be placed in a BioHub. That’s because stem cells have the potential to become virtually any kind of cell.

Our challenge is to “push” stem cells down the path we want them to go – to emerge as cells that sense glucose and secrete insulin. To accomplish that, DRI scientists are working with a variety of adult stem cells. 

A novel source of insulin-producing cells

An area that has sparked great interest is the discovery of stem cells in the "biliary (BILL-ee-air-ee) tree" – a network of drainage ducts that connect the liver and pancreas to the intestine. 

DRI researchers are collaborating with Dr. Lola Reid from the University of North Carolina, a recognized expert in liver development who discovered this line of stem cells.

A key benefit is that these are pancreatic "precursor" cells - that is, cells that already have started down the path to become pancreatic cells. This could make it easier for scientists to produce a higher, more efficient yield of beta cells.

In the lab, scientists have instructed the biliary cells to mature into islets. These islet structures produced insulin and c-peptide (a component of natural insulin production) in response to glucose. Transplanting these structures into diabetic mice dramatically improved blood sugar control.

Ongoing studies are aimed at establishing that these cellls can be used to reverse diabetes in pre-clinical models.

Read more about this research in the prestigious journal Stem Cells.

Have questions about stem cells? Learn more from our Stem Cell FAQ.

DRI researchers are investigating biliary tree stem cells.

The DRI BioHub mini organ mimics the native pancreas
Learn more about the development of the BioHub mini organ to restore natural insulin production in those living with diabetes.
Watch the BioHub video>>


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