Ann Conkle
Mar 12, 2012

Gut cells coaxed into producing insulin

A study by Columbia University researchers suggests that cells in the intestine can be coaxed into making insulin, circumventing the need for a stem cell transplant. Until now, stem cell transplants have been seen by many researchers as the ideal way to replace cells lost in type I diabetes. Though researchers can make insulin-producing cells in the laboratory from embryonic stem cells, such cells are not yet appropriate for transplant because they do not release insulin appropriately in response to glucose levels. The new study shows that certain progenitor cells in the intestine of mice have the surprising ability to make insulin-producing cells. When researchers turned off a gene known to play a role in cell fate decisions -- Foxo1 -- the progenitor cells also generated insulin-producing cells. More cells were generated when Foxo1 was turned off early in development, but insulin-producing cells were also generated when the gene was turned off after the mice reached adulthood.