Human Cell Study for Diabetes Today on Bloomberg: Human Gut Cells Turned Into Insulin Producers by Researchers

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By Angela Zimm
June 30 (Bloomberg) — Scientists have converted human gut
cells into insulin producers by turning off a single gene in an
experiment that suggests a new way forward in treating diabetes.
Using a miniature model of the human intestine, only a few
millimeters in size and made from stem cells, the scientists
deactivated a gene in the cells tied to metabolic regulation
called FOXO1. Once disabled, the cells began producing insulin.
The method, described today in the journal Nature
Communications, raises the possibility of replacing insulin-
making pancreatic beta cells lost in diabetics by using a drug
to retrain patients’ existing cells. While progress has been
made in generating beta cells from stem cells, the method hasn’t
yet produced ones with all the needed functions, said Domenico
Accili, the study’s lead author. Plus, such cells would require
transplantation.
“We provided a proof of principle that we can do this in
human tissues and are also very excited that there is a single
identifiable target to trigger this process,” Accili, professor
of medicine at Columbia University’s Naomi Berrie Diabetes
Research Center in New York, said in an interview. “This is
what the pharmaceutical industry is interested in — make a
chemical and do what we did in test tubes to administer to
persons with diabetes and teach their gut cells to become beta
cells.”

Drug Development

The results build on research two years ago by Accili and
his team that first tested the approach in mice, successfully
converting gut cells into insulin-making cells. That work has
since received independent confirmation from another group. In
the human cell experiment, gut cells started releasing insulin
after seven days and only in response to glucose.
Now that Accili and his team have shown it works in human
cells, their next step is to develop a drug to test in people.
Accili said it’s possible that there could be a compound for
clinical trials in a year or two.
Diabetes, which results when the body doesn’t use insulin
properly or doesn’t make the hormone, is the seventh-leading
cause of death in the U.S. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the
pancreas that helps the body control blood sugar.
Destruction of insulin-making beta cells in the pancreas is
the central feature of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. In Type 1
diabetics, the cells are destroyed by the immune system and
don’t produce insulin. In Type 2, in which the body doesn’t use
insulin properly, beta cells become progressively dysfunctional.

Gut Advantage

One advantage to this experimental approach is that the
gastrointestinal tract is partly protected from attack by the
immune system, making gut cells less susceptible to destruction,
Accili said.
A treatment for diabetes that doesn’t require daily insulin
injections would change the treatment landscape for the 29
million diabetics in the U.S. However, it’s likely that any
potential drug would first be evaluated for Type 2 diabetes,
because of concerns of testing in Type 1 diabetics going without
insulin injections, he said.
“The work is a laser-like focus on turning this into a
treatment,” Accili said. “We follow 3,000 patients with Type 1
at the Berrie Center alone. That’s our main goal.”
Collaborations with drugmakers are already under way,
Accili said, though he declined to name companies.
British drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc helped fund the research,
with the National Institutes of Health, the Manpei Suzuki
Diabetes Foundation, the Swedish Society for Medical Research,
the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, the JPB
Foundation and the Brehm Coalition.

For Related News and Information:
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Stories on new research: TNI MEDICAL SCIENCE BN
Today’s most popular health-care stories: MNI HEA
Top health stories: HTOP

To contact the reporter on this story:
Angela Zimm in Boston at +1-617-210-4636 or
azimm@bloomberg.net
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Reg Gale at +1-212-617-2563 or
rgale5@bloomberg.net
Kristen Hallam

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