Understanding how the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas mature in young animals and humans is an important step toward developing new diabetes therapies. This morning, Seung Kim, MD, PhD, professor of developmental biology at Stanford and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator published research (subscription required) in Developmental Cell suggesting the involvement of a molecular pathway previously implicated in many other cell types. According to Kim:
This is likely a major step forward in our understanding of how human beta cells become functional. We are beginning to apply what we’ve learned about the normal maturation process of the pancreas to create substitute or replacement cell types for therapy in diabetes.
More details about the study from our release:
The study comes on the heels of a previous study, published last October in Nature, in which Kim and other researchers in his lab described the involvement of a molecule called PDGF in beta cell development. Now, the new findings from Kim’s team bring scientists still closer to being able to generate functional beta cells in a laboratory dish for transplant into a human patient, or to coax a diabetic’s non-functioning beta cells to begin dividing and producing insulin.