Embryonic Stem Cell
Human embryonic stem cells matured into insulin-secreting beta cells offering a potential cure for diabetes. Reuters

A fast and effective stem cell-based approach for insulin replacement in patients with type 2 diabetes could soon be possible, going by results from a study in mouse model.

Using a combination of human stem cell transplantation and antidiabetic drugs, researchers from the University of British Columbia were able to improve body weight and glucose metabolism in mice with type 2 diabetes.

Senior study author Timothy Kieffer of the University of British Columbia worked with BetaLogics, a division of Janssen Research & Development, LLC, to obtain the results.

Mice were fed a high-fat diet to induce obesity, low responsiveness to insulin, and high blood glucose levels associated with type 2 diabetes. They then received transplants of pancreatic progenitor cells derived from human embryonic stem cells.

These cells matured into insulin-secreting beta cells, resulting in improvements in insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism.

When treated with anti-diabetic drugs, the study resulted in rapid weight loss in the mice and more significant improvements in glucose metabolism than when treated to any one treatment alone.

The team plans to test the effectiveness of transplanting more mature insulin-producing cells that could potentially reverse symptoms of diabetes faster.

At present, treatment for type 2 diabetes involves insulin delivery or drugs to control blood glucose levels, both of which have their own side effects.

There are nearly 400 million cases of diabetes worldwide, a majority of which comprises the type 2 diabetes.

Stem cell therapy

Harvard scientists had claimed a breakthrough last year in using human embryonic stem cells to produce glucose-sensing, insulin-secreting beta cells to treat the type 1 diabetes prevalent in children.

"Success in these clinical trials could pave the way for testing in patients with type 2 diabetes," Kieffer says. "Our hope is that a stem cell-based approach to insulin replacement will ultimately improve glucose control in patients with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, resulting in healthier, longer lives."

The findings were published in Stem Cell Reports.

Stem cells are the body's growth and maintenance units that are able to differentiate indefinitely into specialised cell types, first in the growing embryo into various organ cell types, and later form the body's repair mechanism by producing cells when the tissue they reside in is damaged.

These stem cells are found in most tissue types as well as in the embryo. Increasingly, they are being harvested in the lab for treating patients.

Since their discovery in the 90s, embryonic stem cells have been touted as the solution to many incurable diseases but remain dogged by ethical issues.

Most embryonic stem cells used for research are derived from eggs that have been fertilised in vitro and donated for research purposes with informed consent of the donors.