Learning the ABCs of Beta Cells, Robert S. Dinsmoor, JDRF Countdown, Spring 2006.
Beta cell regeneration, dedifferentiation, redifferentiation, isolation, and encapsulation: this article reviews some of the leading curative research, profiling scientists who are furiously trying to replace beta cells as a therapy for type 1 diabetes. Dinsmoor writes about projects across the world. For instance, a group in Denmark is using fluorescent protein tags in mouse models to better understand gene expression in beta cell differentiation, while researchers at Mt. Sinai are looking at how to make endoderm from embryonic stem cells. (Endoderm is the embryonic tissue layer that generates beta cells.) Researchers are now focused on learning what causes beta cells to develop. While we know that endoderm, a type of embryonic tissue, becomes the pancreas and the beta cell, we do not understand how this happens. Understanding the signaling that transforms generalized tissue into beta cells may help researchers create new beta cells for people with diabetes.
The bottom line: Although curative research seems at times to be agonizingly slow, progress is being made. Researchers now understand considerably more about the genetics of beta cell differentiation. That said, even when researchers understand how beta cells are created, more work needs to be done before we can engineer cells to replace beta cells. As Dinsmoor writes, "Real beta cells must be able to synthesize insulin, store it, and secrete it in a glucose-responsive manner." Thats a tall order.