Hormone prompts adult stem cells to differentiate into islet cells

ifferentiate, or mature, into true beta cells. In a 2001 study, the team identified the islet stem cells called nestin-positive islet-derived progenitor cells (NIPs) and showed that NIPs could develop into insulin-secreting cells. (For information about earlier study, see http://www.mgh.harvard.edu/depts/pubaffairs/releases/030101pancreas.htm.)

The current report finds that NIPs express a receptor protein that binds to GLP-1 and, when activated, induces the NIPs to differentiate into insulin-secreting cells. Locally produced GLP-1 may stimulate the development of beta cells by causing islet stem cells to differentiate. These findings may help researchers devise strategies for using NIPs to treat diabetes.

"If we can transplant beta cells grown from a patient?s own stem cells, the risk of rejection is gone," says Habener. "And now with the addition of GLP-1, we might be able to stimulate those cells to become truly functional." Habener stresses that the NIPs are derived from adult tissues. Therefore, the ethical issues that surround fetal or embryonic stem cells can be avoided.

Habener is working with the cellular therapy company ViaCell to design preclinical studies that will test whether adult islet stem cells might actually prove to be a cure for diabetes. ViaCell has licensed some of Habener?s discoveries and has formed the subsidairy ViaCell Endocrine Science, Inc. to research and develop cellular medicines for human diseases including diabetes.

Contact: Susan McGreevey
Massachusetts General Hospital

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