Type 1 diabetes: the hope of stem cells

The transplantation of islet cells has been practiced for some 70 years with type 1 diabetes. Suffice to say that this is not a revolutionary technique. However, it is a fact that the gifts of these endocrine cells, insulin-producing and constituting from 1% to 2% of the mass of the pancreas, are too rare. In addition, the operation is so effective it must be renewed every two years. Not to mention that last two to three donors are needed for each recipient …. A biotechnology company working to Paris the development of dedicated stem cells. It is therefore a real hope on the horizon of 5 years.

“The development of cells destined to become islet cells could provide an abundant source for more transplants,” said Professor Paul Czenichow,  endocrinologist and director of the biotechnology company Endocells, working in partnership with INSERM and CNRS. To do this, its researchers work on cells already targeted. “Taken from the fetal pancreas, they are ‘immortalized’. That is to say that they injected a gene that gives them the ability to multiply, once placed in an environment rich in glucose. They become human beta cells, insulin-producing. ” Cultivated, they can be stored for about 80 weeks.

“Right now, they have not been subject to human transplants. For use, we need to take away the immortalizing gene, “said he. “We’re trying to accomplish this last step. We hope to reach a first attempt to transplant within 5 years. ”

This is an important perspective for type 1 diabetes, that is to say patients with insulin-dependent diabetes. They now represent about 10% to 15% of all diabetics. So far, three treatment options available to them. Daily administration of insulin is the most common. Others may also be administer insulin through a pump, and some patients benefit from a pancreas transplant. This is major surgery, for “less than 3000 patients each year worldwide,” said Professor Czenichow.

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