NEW YORK (TheBlaze/AP) — In a potential step toward new diabetes treatments, scientists used a cloning technique to make insulin-producing cells with the DNA of a diabetic woman.
The technique involved the diabetic woman donating her skin cells, which were used to make human embryos with donated human eggs. These embryos then yielded stem cells.
Bioethicist Insoo Hyun from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine told Reuters this research "increases the likelihood that human embryos will be produced to generate therapy for a specific individual" and that "the creation of more human embryos for scientific experiments is certain."
The approach, which was led by Dieter Egli of the New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute, could someday aid treatment of the Type 1 form of the illness, which is usually diagnosed in childhood and accounts for about 5 percent of diabetes cases in the U.S.
The disease kills insulin-making cells in the pancreas. People with Type 1 diabetes use shots or a small pump to supply the hormone, which is needed to control blood sugar.
"From the start, the goal of this work has been to make patient-specific stem cells from an adult human subject with type 1 diabetes that can give rise to the cells lost in the disease," Egli said in a statement. "By reprograming cells to a pluripotent state and making beta cells, we are now one step closer to being able to treat diabetic patients with their own insulin-producing cells."
Pro-life groups disagree with such a technique, however.
"They are cloning human embryos and killing them for their cells," biologist David Prentice with the Family Research Council told Reuters. "There should be much more outrage."
Doug Melton of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, who was not involved with the work, called the paper an impressive technical achievement. But he said he believed the cells would be useful as a research tool rather than a source of transplants. They could help scientists uncover what triggers Type 1 diabetes, he said, which could in turn lead to better therapies.
Scientists had previously made insulin cells that match diabetic patients by another means, so the new work gives researchers another option for comparison. Researchers are also exploring transplants of insulin-producing cells from cadavers as a potential treatment.
The latest work used a technique that partially resembles the process used to clone animals. Basically, scientists put DNA from the woman's skin cells into donated human eggs. The eggs were grown into early embryos. From these, the scientists removed stem cells, which can grow into any cell type in the body. These stem cells were turned into the insulin-producing cells.
Egli told reporters that these cells have shown promise in animal tests, but that he could not estimate a timetable for human experiments.
The new work is the third report of using the cloning approach to make human stem cells, and the first using the technique to create insulin-making cells.
The research was published in the journal Nature.