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Human stomach cells may ‘secrete insulin’ to control blood sugar

New Delhi, May 28 (IANS) Stem cells from the human stomach can be converted into cells that secrete insulin in response to rising blood sugar levels, offering a promising approach to treating diabetes, a significant pre-clinical study has said.

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City in the US showed they could take stem cells obtained from human stomach tissue and reprogramme them directly — with strikingly high efficiency — into cells that closely resemble pancreatic insulin-secreting cells known as beta cells.

Transplants of small groups of these cells reversed disease signs in a mouse model of diabetes, said the study which appeared in the journal Nature Cell Biology.

“This is a proof-of-concept study that gives us a solid foundation for developing a treatment, based on patients’ own cells, for type 1 diabetes and severe type 2 diabetes,” said study senior author Dr Joe Zhou, a professor of regenerative medicine and a member of the Hartman Institute for Therapeutic Organ Regeneration at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Dr Zhou has been working toward this goal for more than 15 years.

In a 2016 study, again in mice, he and his team showed that certain stem cells in the stomach, called gastric stem cells, are also highly sensitive to this activation method.

“The stomach makes its own hormone-secreting cells, and stomach cells and pancreatic cells are adjacent in the embryonic stage of development, so in that sense it isn’t completely surprising that gastric stem cells can be so readily transformed into beta-like insulin-secreting cells,” Dr Zhou elaborated.

After turning human gastric stem cells into beta-like cells, the team grew the cells in small clusters called organoids and found that these organ-like pieces of tissue quickly became sensitive to glucose, responding with secretions of insulin.

Dr Zhou said that he and his lab still need to optimise their method in various ways before it can be considered for clinical use.

Ultimately, the researchers hope to develop a technique enabling the relatively easy harvesting of gastric stem cells from patients, followed by the transplant, weeks later, of insulin-secreting organoids that regulate blood sugar levels without the need for further medication.