Beta Cell Replacement Therapy: A New Frontier in Diabetes Research

A promising new approach to stem cell research brings together research groups at the University of Chicago with other collaborators to apply their complementary expertise in stem cell and developmental biology, genetics and genomics and beta-cell physiology to address the problem of generating mature human beta-cells that can be used therapeutically in patients with type 1 diabetes (TID).  In particular, Dr. Philipson and Bell have been working with James Wells, PhD of the University of Cincinnati and his lab to continue the momentum of this research.

As Kovler scientists continue their research in this area- with generous support from Friends United- they are thinking through the idea that cells made from adults can be taught to make insulin and might be used to treat diabetes. The technical term for these cells is induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), and Dr. Philipson thinks they can help teach all of us how insulin-secreting cells (beta cells) are properly made. These adult stem cells are made from skin biopsies of adults, not embryos, and using genetic methods can be turned into stem cells that can do almost anything.

According to Dr. Philipson, the next phase of this collaborative project is to “send blood samples to Dr. Wells and his team to start the process of making adult-stem cells from white blood cells. Our specific research initiative is to take advantage of our expertise in unusual, genetic forms of diabetes called monogenic diabetes.” Using iPSCs derived from patients with monogenic forms of diabetes due to a mutation in key genes affecting beta-cell development or maturation of the insulin secreting cells, Drs. Philipson, Bell and others hope to learn how to create improved beta cells.