Putting forth a public release on his research, Martin Fussenegger, Professor of Biotechnology and Bioengineering at ETH Zurich in Basel is offering some exciting news for diabetics. As a member of the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering, Fussenegger performs research on a variety of biological subjects, but most recently his focus has apparently rested on finding a cure for diabetes. To that end, he has been pulling stem cells from the fatty tissues of his subjects and working to reprogram them to produce beta cells. The idea is that these cells can be used to form insulin, which will work in place of the otherwise non-working pancreas. Apparently, his team is seeing some success.
“Fatty tissue” might sound a bit strange, but for all those who are afraid to carry a few extra pounds, the news might actually be something you can get on board with. In his research, Fussenegger and his team are actually pulling stem cells from his patient’s love handles. This is commonly one of the best areas to get access to the fatty tissue he needs. With a little bit of genetic reprogramming, he has successfully been maturing this tissue into beta cells. When exposed to glucose, the beta cells are doing just what he had hoped—producing the hormone insulin.
To accomplish this, his team has been using a complex network of synthetic genes on the extracted stem cells. Using specific growth factors, they work to produce the process as close to nature as possible, ensuring that it is more successful than previous efforts. In fact, it is reported that three out of four adipose stem cells are converting into beta cells, which means more insulin.
As far as the release suggests, there still may be some time before a serious cure for diabetes can be discussed, but if findings turn out to be accurate, this could be a major breakthrough. Fussenegger admits that right now the cells are not quite as potent as their natural counterparts, but since they can be produced more easily and reliably than before, this shouldn’t be much of an obstacle to replicating and perfecting the process. In the past, this sort of work was so precise and had to be manually manipulated every step of the way, making it expensive and very difficult to succeed. Now, the process is much closer to becoming something readily available.
While the current beta cells may not be as potent as the naturally produced ones, they do show some success in dealing with these cells, which could mean a bright future for all those who suffer from diabetes. If this sort of programming can successfully be used to create insulin within the body, it also has some serious implications about other medical breakthroughs. Researchers suggest that it could even be used on other organs to help restore proper functioning, applying the right techniques of course. Down the road, could a similar procedure even be used to deal with other deficiencies that the body might be suffering from?