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ES cell model could provide clues to causes, cures for diabetes

MADISON - By studying embryonic stem cells from a mouse, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have identified a potential model system for elucidating the stages of normal pancreatic development, as well as for developing a much-needed source of insulin-producing cells for the millions of people who need them to treat their diabetes.

The findings are published in the July 25 issue of Diabetes, the journal of the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

The ADA estimates that 17 million people in the United States have diabetes. Between five and 10 percent of them are younger than 20 years old and have a form of this disease called Type I diabetes. This type develops when the body's immune system destroys pancreatic islet cells that make the hormone insulin, which regulates blood-sugar levels. To control these levels, people with Type I diabetes must inject themselves daily with multiple insulin shots. Without these shots, many could die.

"Patients with Type I diabetes need a replacement of islet cells or whole pancreas transplants," says Jon Odorico, a UW-Madison Medical School transplant surgeon and senior author of the paper. But, he adds, "There's a huge shortage of cadaver donors - the main source for the transplants. A lot of people are looking for alternatives."

According to the latest study, embryonic stem cells - cells that have the ability to differentiate into, or form, any adult cell - could be one of them. "They could be a source for replacing the patient's own damaged islet cells," says the Wisconsin surgeon.

In the study, the researchers watched mouse embryonic stem cells differentiate into a variety of cells with specific functions. Of most interest to them were those cells involved in the formation of the pancreas, including its clusters of hormone-producing islet cells. The researchers found that the mouse stem cells, cultured in serum with no added growth factors, differentiated into pancreatic pre
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Contact: Jon Odorico
jon@tx.surgery.wisc.edu
608-265-6471
University of Wisconsin-Madison
28-Jul-2003


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