Ou August 27,2008 Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers posted the results of a startling new experiment: using mice, they converted adult pancreatic cells into insulin-producing beta cells. Although early in the process, this experiment opens the door for new cures for a variety of illnesses. A diabetic, for example, could have their own cells transformed to help them produce insulin. The study was published on the online journal, Nature.
Douglas A. Melton, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator at Harvard University and co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and postdoctoral fellow Qiao “Joe” Zhou were involved in this study. Mr Melton comments, “What this shows is that you can go directly from one type of adult cell to another, without going back to the beginning.”
The findings of this experiment are a major win. Cures developed using this approach will not have the political and ethical issues of the much-criticized embryonic stem cell research. “I see no moral problem in this basic technique. This is a win-win situation for medicine and ethics,” said Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The study identified “transcription factors” which involve manipulating master proteins that determine which sets of genes are active in a cell. Qiao Zhou and Douglas A. Melton pinpointed three transcription factors active in the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas.
For more information, visit the Howard Hughes Medical Instutes’ site at:
The new field depends on manipulating master proteins called transcription factors that regulate which sets of genes are active in a cell and thus determine what properties and functions the cell will possess.
The present study conducted by a team led by Qiao Zhou and Douglas A. Melton at Harvard has pinpointed three transcription factors active in the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas.
They added the genes for these three factors on to a virus that infects another type of pancreatic cell, known as an exocrine cell. The transformed exocrine cells were seen to produce insulin in mice made diabetic by a drug that kills beta cells.
The mice also showed “a significant and long-lasting improvement” in their diabetic state, the researchers reported Thursday in the journal Nature.
The transformed exocrine cells not only resembled beta cells in function, but in appearance too; and stopped their erstwhile functions altogether. However they did not form the pancreatic islets where beta cells usually group together, making the morphed entities only ‘cells that closely resemble beta cells.’
“It’s kind of an extreme makeover of a cell,” said Douglas Melton, co-director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, who led the research. “The goal is to create cells that are missing or defective in people. It’s very exciting.”
The new study has drawn the admiration of researchers worldwide. Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer of Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., a developer of stem cell therapies said the new study presents “a whole new paradigm for treating disease.”
Critics of embryonic stem cell research also welcomed the findings of the new study. “I see no moral problem in this basic technique. This is a win-win situation for medicine and ethics,” said Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a leading opponent of embryonic stems cells.