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Using stem cells that they extracted from the brains of diabetic lab rats, and turning them into insulin-producing pancreatic cells, Japanese scientists may be on the road to a virtual cure for diabetes that comes from people's own brains.
Led by Tomoko Kuwabara of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Tsukuba Science City, Japan, a team of scientists extracted neural tissue from the rats' olfactory bulbs or their hippocampuses. The former is the part of the brain is involved with smell while the former is involved with memory.
The scientists then extracted stem cells from the tissue and applied a human protein to them, Wnt3a, which "switches on" insulin production. After two weeks, the cells had multiplied to the point that the researchers could lay collagen sheets impregnated with them gently on top of the diabetic rats' pancreases.
Seven days later, the concentration of insulin in the blood of all the rats, whether type 1 or type 2, matched that of non-diabetic rats. Blood glucose levels were normal.
The treatment worked successfully for almost five months, at which time the scientists removed the stem cell-impregnated sheets. Once the sheets were removed, the rats reverted to their pre-experiment blood sugar and insulin levels.
Aside from the possibility that patients' own neural stem cells could be used as an incredibly effective therapy, the Japanese scientists noted that the cells did not need to be genetically manipulated. In other experiments with stem cells that have been taken from such parts of the body as the intestines, blood, and liver, researchers had to alter or manipulate them before transferring them to test subjects. The relatively simple addition of Wnt3a, as well as a known antibody that blocks one of the body's built-in insulin production inhibitors, is a straightforward procedure that bypasses those efforts.
The next step is set up experiments to determine if neural cells taken from the same areas of the brain in diabetic humans can be turned into insulin-producing cells, and whether the cells can be applied to human pancreases with the same good results.
The results have been published in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine under the article name "Neural stem cells for diabetes cell-based therapy." Access is on a subscription basis.
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