Beta cell regeneration

Researchers and physicians are studying how to regenerate beta cells in the lab and within the pancreas, which may lead to new treatments for type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Beta cell dysfunction is a characteristic of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, beta cells — insulin-producing cells found in the pancreas — are destroyed, while in type 2 diabetes, they may not produce enough insulin.

Since it's not possible today to generate new, patient-specific, functional beta cells, people with type 1 diabetes need insulin therapy. People with type 2 diabetes often need medications, with certain cases requiring insulin therapy.

Focus areas

Center for Regenerative Medicine researchers, led by Yasuhiro Ikeda, D.V.M., Ph.D., and Yogish C. Kudva, MBBS, both of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., are taking two related approaches to beta cell regeneration that may lead to new treatments for diabetes.

  • In the laboratory. In vitro beta cell regeneration uses induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, a type of bioengineered stem cell that acts like an embryonic stem cell. Using a person's own skin cells or blood cells as a starting point, Mayo researchers have successfully generated patient-specific iPS cells and subsequently converted them into glucose-responsive, insulin-producing cells in the laboratory.

    Once fully optimized, such cells may enable a novel cell therapy for beta cell dysfunction in diabetes. And since the transplanted cells are derived from the patient's own cells, there would be no need to give the patient any immunosuppressive drugs, which are necessary for pancreas and islet cell transplants today.

  • In a patient's own pancreas. Mayo researchers are working to enhance a person's natural ability to regenerate beta cells using gene therapy, which involves delivering to the pancreas cellular factors known to enhance beta cell growth and regeneration.

    Investigators have developed pancreatic beta cell- and exocrine tissue-specific gene delivery vectors, and they are now studying the therapeutic effects of pancreatic overexpression of beta cell regenerating factors.

    Recent results have shown that pancreatic delivery of a synthesized artificial fusion protein can prevent diabetes development in drug-induced diabetic mice. Several other strategies are also being evaluated.

Recent advances

  • Generating iPS cells from skin fibroblasts, blood cells and stomach cells from people with type 1 diabetes and elderly people with type 2 diabetes
  • Generating genomic modification-free iPS cells from people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes
  • Establishing a novel guided differentiation protocol for in vitro iPS cell differentiation into insulin-producing cells
  • Generating insulin-producing cells from iPS cells derived from skin and blood cells of people with and without diabetes
  • Finding that gene therapy — using a pancreas-targeting vector and the GLP-1/INGAP fusion protein — could protect mice from developing diabetes