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Insulin cells breakthrough

31st October 2006

Insulin-secreting cells have been created from human embryonic stem cells for the first time, raising hopes of a limitless supply of cells that could be transplanted into people with type 1 diabetes.

Emmanuel Baetge and his colleagues at Novocell in San Diego, California, used a cocktail of chemicals to coax the stem cells to form pancreatic cells (Nature Biotechnology, DOI: 10.1038/nbt1259).

The cells produce as much insulin as normal pancreatic islet cells, but unlike adult islet cells, this doesn't appear to be regulated by sugar levels. Baetge is confident they can overcome this problem.

If they succeed, the company has also developed a way to coat the cells in a polymer called polyethylene glycol, which would prevent them from being rejected by the recipient's immune system, while allowing sugar, insulin and other signalling molecules to filter in and out.

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