Stem Cells for Pancreatic Tissue
Diabetes is a devastating condition, especially where a person is dependent on insulin to live. For this reason, it is a key area of stem cell research. In one recent experiment, scientists found stem cells in the pancreas of mice, which could support the growth of the cells responsible for producing insulin.
What is Diabetes?Within the body, beta cells produce insulin to help regulate a person’s blood sugar. For insulin-dependent diabetes, these beta cells are destroyed and as a result, they take regular insulin injections to keep their blood sugar in a normal, healthy range.
For type 1 diabetics, the pancreas has lost virtually all ability for insulin production. Some diabetics have received transplantation of islet cells, of which beta cells are one part. Unfortunately, there are few donors, which limits the procedure.
The Role of Stem Cells in the PancreasIn terms of stem cells in the pancreas, there has previously been debate over what role, if any, they play. In one study, researchers found that the primary source of newer beta cells was not stem cells.
Instead, they were beta cells already existing in the body. This led to a conclusion that if stem cells weren’t contributing to new beta cells, there was no need to investigate further.
Understanding Pancreatic Stem CellsIn this new study, researchers believe they have now found convincing evidence that stem cells do exist. Also, these stem cells can be activated through ‘damage’ to lead to the production of new, functional beta cells.
Regenerating CellsThey hope the results will help us find ways to regenerate beta cells, allowing the body of a diabetic to produce insulin on its own. As mentioned, there has been a search for some time to locate stem cells in the pancreas, but this study is one of the first to offer hope that stem cells do exist there and could be important.
For this study, researchers used mice; they severed the duct responsible for draining digestive enzymes. After two weeks had passed, they found that the beta cell numbers in the pancreas had doubled. Also, the mice had begun to produce a greater amount of insulin.