In a significant breakthrough, scientists at Weill Cornell Medicine in the US have successfully repurposed human stomach cells to create tissues that release insulin in response to high blood sugar levels. This groundbreaking experiment offers a promising solution for managing conditions like type 1 diabetes.
The researchers conducted the study on mice and found that transplants of gastric insulin-secreting (GINS) cells effectively reversed diabetes in these animals.
While pancreatic beta cells are responsible for releasing insulin in response to increased blood sugar, individuals with diabetes often have damaged or insufficient beta cells, impairing their ability to regulate glucose levels.
Although GINS cells are not identical to beta cells, they can replicate their function. The human gut contains numerous stem cells that possess the ability to transform into various types of cells and have a rapid proliferation rate.
This opens up the possibility of using an individual’s own gut stem cells to generate GINS cells, reducing the risk of rejection.
This research offers hope for the development of new treatments for diabetes, particularly for individuals who struggle with insulin production or function.
By harnessing the regenerative capabilities of gut stem cells, scientists are working towards more effective management and potentially a cure for diabetes.
“The stomach makes its own hormone-secreting cells, and stomach cells and pancreatic cells are adjacent in the embryonic stage of development, so in that sense, it isn’t completely surprising that gastric stem cells can be so readily transformed into beta-like insulin-secreting cells,” says Joe Zhou, an associate professor of regenerative medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York.
The recent breakthrough in transforming human stomach cells into insulin-releasing tissues, known as GINS cells, has been achieved through a carefully orchestrated process. Scientists have focused on activating three specific proteins within the cells, which play a crucial role in controlling gene expression.
By activating these proteins in a specific sequence, the researchers were able to trigger the transformation into GINS cells.
One notable aspect of this investigation is the high efficiency of the reprogramming process. When the transformed cells were grown in organoids (small clusters of cells that mimic organ-like structures), they displayed sensitivity to glucose.
Furthermore, the effects of the transformation were found to be long-lasting, showing promise for the management of diabetes.
According to the researchers, the production of GINS cells from stomach cells is not a complex procedure and can be completed within a few days.
Moreover, the transplanted organoids have demonstrated the ability to survive for extended periods, lasting for months based on the tests conducted.
These findings are a significant step forward in the pursuit of effective diabetes management. The simplified and efficient process of generating GINS cells, coupled with their long-term functionality, holds great potential for future therapeutic applications.
“Gastric insulin-secreting (GINS) organoids exhibited glucose responsiveness 10 days after induction,” the researchers note in their report. “They were stable upon transplantation for as long as we tracked them (6 months), secreted human insulin, and reversed diabetes in mice.”
The discovery of using transformed stomach cells as insulin-releasing tissues represent a potential breakthrough in the management of diabetes.
Insulin plays a vital role in regulating blood glucose levels, and individuals with diabetes often rely on insulin injections to maintain proper control.
While this approach is still in its early stages, it holds the promise of restoring a more natural balance of insulin in the body.
Further research is needed to address the differences between human and mouse stomach tissue and to develop methods for protecting GINS cells from immune system attacks.
Despite the challenges, initial results are encouraging. This study contributes to the ongoing efforts by scientists to tackle diabetes through various approaches, such as dietary improvements and advancements in insulin delivery methods.
By expanding the range of potential treatment options, researchers are striving to enhance the quality of life for millions of individuals living with diabetes worldwide.
“This is a proof-of-concept study that gives us a solid foundation for developing a treatment, based on patient’s own cells, for type 1 diabetes and severe type 2 diabetes,” says Zhou.
The research has been published in Nature Cell Biology.