Insulin-Producing Beta Cell Subtypes May Impact Diabetes Treatment


Researchers from the Oregon Stem Cell Center in Portland, Oregon have demonstrated the existence of at least four separate subtypes of human insulin-producing beta cells that may be important in the understanding and treatment of diabetes.

“This study marks the first description of several different kinds of human insulin producing beta cells,” said Markus Grompe of the Oregon Stem Cell Center at Oregon Health Science University. “Some of the cells are better at releasing insulin than others, whereas others may regenerate quicker. Therefore, it is possible that people with different percentages of the subtypes are more prone to diabetes. Further understanding of cell characteristics could be the key to uncovering new treatment options, as well as the reason why some people are diabetic and others are not.”

Diabetes mellitus affects more than 29 million people in the United States. There are two main types of diabetes mellitus, type I and type II. Type I diabetes mellitus is caused by insufficient production of insulin. Type II diabetes mellitus is caused by insulin resistance or the inability of the body to properly respond to the insulin produced by the body. Type I diabetes mellitus results from dysfunction or loss of insulin producing beta cells in the endocrine portion of the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body keep normal blood sugar levels, and incorporate sugar in the bloodstream into cells to grow and repair tissues. Previously, only a single variety of beta cell was known to exist. However, using human pancreatic islets, or clusters of up to 4,000 cells, Grompe and colleagues identified a method to identify and isolate four distinct types of beta cells. They also found that hundreds of genes were differently expressed between cell subtypes and that these distinct beta cell subtypes produced different amounts of insulin.

All type 2 diabetics had abnormal percentages of the subtypes, suggesting a possible role in the disease process. Additional research is needed to determine how different forms of diabetes – and other diseases – affect the new cell subtypes, as well as how researchers may take advantage of these differences for medical treatment.

This work was published in: Craig Dorrell et al., “Human islets contain four distinct subtypes of β cells,” Nature Communications, 2016; 7: 11756 DOI: 10.1038/ ncomms11756.

Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells from Diabetic Foot Ulcer Fibroblasts


Dr. Jonathan Garlick is professor of Oral Pathology at Tufts University and has achieved some notoriety among stem cell scientists by publishing a stem-cell rap on You Tube to teach people about the importance of stem cells.

Garlick and his colleagues have published a landmark paper in the journal Cellular Reprogramming in which cells from diabetic patients were reprogrammed into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).

Garlick and his colleagues have established, for the first time, that skin cells from diabetic foot ulcers can be reprogrammed iPSCs. These cells can provide an excellent model system for diabetic wounds and may also used, in the future, to treat chronic wounds.

ESC and iPSCs differentiation to fibroblast fate. ESC and iPSC were differentiated and monitored at various stages of differentiation. Representative images show the morphology of ESC and 2 iPSC lines after days 1, 4, 7, 10, 14, 21 and 28 of differentiation. Early morphologic changes showed differentiation beginning at the periphery of colonies (day 1). At later stages cells acquired fibroblast features of elongated, stellate cells (day 10 at days 21 and 28 of differentiation.
ESC and iPSCs differentiation to fibroblast fate. ESC and iPSC were differentiated and monitored at various stages of differentiation. Representative images show the morphology of ESC and 2 iPSC lines after days 1, 4, 7, 10, 14, 21 and 28 of differentiation. Early morphologic changes showed differentiation beginning at the periphery of colonies (day 1). At later stages cells acquired fibroblast features of elongated, stellate cells (day 10 at days 21 and 28 of differentiation.

Garlick’s team at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts, have also used their diabetic-derived iPSCs to show that a protein called fibronectin is linked to a breakdown in the wound-healing process in cells from diabetic foot ulcers.

One of the goals of Garlick’s research is to develop efficient protocols to make functional cell types from iPSCs and to use them to generate 3D tissues that demonstrate a broad range of biological functions. His goal is to use the 3D model system to develop human therapies to replace or regenerate damaged human cells and tissues and restore their normal function.

In this paper, Garlick and his colleagues showed that not only can fibroblasts from diabetic wounds form iPSCs, but they can also participate in 3D skin-like tissues. This model system is more than a disease-in-a-dish system but disease-in-a-tissue system.

Fabrication of three-dimensional tissue construction. (A) A collagen gel embedded with human dermal fibroblasts is layered onto a polycarbonate membrane. (B) After dermal fibroblasts contract and remodel the collagen matrix, keratinocytes are then seeded onto it to create a monolayer that will form the basal layer of the tissue. (C) Tissues are raised to an air-liquid interface to initiate tissue development that mimics in vivo skin.
Fabrication of three-dimensional tissue construction. (A) A collagen gel embedded with human dermal fibroblasts is layered onto a polycarbonate membrane. (B) After dermal fibroblasts contract and remodel the collagen matrix, keratinocytes are then seeded onto it to create a monolayer that will form the basal layer of the tissue. (C) Tissues are raised to an air-liquid interface to initiate tissue development that mimics in vivo skin. From this site.

“The results are encouraging. Unlike cells taken from healthy human skin, cells taken from wounds that don’t heal – like diabetic foot ulcers – are difficult to grow and do not restore normal tissue function,” said Garlick. “By pushing these diabetic wound cells back to this earliest, embryonic stage of development, we have ‘rebooted’ them to a new starting point to hopefully make them into specific cell types that can heal wounds in patients suffering from such wounds.”

Scientists in Garlick’s laboratory used these 3D tissues to test the properties of cells from diabetic foot ulcers and found that cells from the ulcers get are not able to advance beyond synthesizing an immature scaffold made up predominantly of a protein called fibronectin.  Fibronectin, unfortunately, seems to prevent proper closure of wounds.

Fibronectin Sigma

Fibronectin has been shown to be abnormal in other diabetic complications, such as kidney disease, but this is the first study that directly connects it to cells taken from diabetic foot ulcers.

Deriving more effective therapies for foot ulcers has been slow going because of a lack of realistic wound-healing models that mimic the extracellular matrices of human tissues. This scaffolding is critical for wound repair in skin, and other tissue as well.

The work in this paper builds on earlier experiments that showed that cells from diabetic ulcers have fundamental defects that can be simulated using laboratory-grown 3D tissue models. These 3D models will almost certainly be a good model system to test new therapeutics that could improve wound healing and prevent those limb amputations that result when treatments fail.

Garlick’s 3D model will allow him and other researchers to push these studies forward. Can they differentiate their cells into more mature cell types that can be studied in 3D models to see if they will improve healing of chronic wounds?

More than 29 million Americans have diabetes. Diabetic foot ulcers, often resistant to treatment, are a major complication. The National Diabetes Statistics Report of 2014 stated that about 73,000 non-traumatic lower-limb amputations in 2010 were performed in adults aged 20 years or older with diagnosed diabetes, and approximately 60 percent of all non-traumatic lower-limb amputations occur in people with diabetes.

This paper appeared in: Behzad Gerami-Naini, et al., Cellular Reprogramming. June 2016, doi:10.1089/cell.2015.0087.

Insulin-Secreting Beta Cells from Human Fat


In a study led by Martin Fussenegger of ETH Zurich, stem cells extracted from the fat of a 50-year-old test subject were transformed into mature, insulin-secreting pancreatic beta cells.

Fussenegger and his colleagues isolated stem cells from the fat of a 50-year-old man and used these cells to make induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). These iPSCs were then differentiated into pancreatic progenitor cells and then into insulin-secreting beta cells but means of a “genetic software” approach.

Genetic software refers to the complex synthetic network of genes required to differentiate pancreatic progenitor cells into insulin-secreting beta cells. In particular, three genes, all of which expression transcription factors, Ngn3, Pdx1, and MafA, are particularly crucial for beta cell differentiation.

Fussenegger and his team designed a a protocol that would express within these fat-based stem cells the precise concentration and combination of these transcription factors. This feature is quite important because the concentration of these factors changes during the differentiation process. For example, MafA is not present at the start of beta cells maturation, but appears on day four on the final data of maturation when its concentration rises precipitously. The concentration of Ngn3 rises and then falls and the levels of Pdx1 rise at the beginning and towards the end of maturation.

The Zurich team used ingenious genetic tools to reproduce these vicissitudes of gene expression as precisely as possible. By doing so, they were able to differentiate the iPSC-derived pancreatic progenitor cells into insulin-secreting beta cells.

This work was published in Nature Communications 7, doi:10.1038/ncomms11247.

The fact that Fussenegger’s team was able to use a synthetic gene network to form mature beta cells from adult stem cells is a genuine breakthrough. The genetic network approach also seems to work better than the traditional technique of adding various chemicals and growth factors to cultures cells. “It’s not only really hard to add just the right quantities of these components (growth factors) at just the right time, it’s also inefficient and impossible to scale up,” said Fussenegger.

This new process can successfully transform three out of four fat stem cells into beta cells. Also the beta cells made with this method have the same microscopic appearance of natural beta cells in that they contain internal granules full of insulin. They also secrete insulin in response to increased blood glucose concentrations. Unfortunately the amount of insulin made by these cells is lower than that made by natural beta cells.

Pancreatic islet transplants have been performed in diabetic patients, but such transplantations also require treatment with potent antirejection drugs that have potent side effects.

“With our beta cells, there would likely be no need for this action (administering antitransplantation drugs), since we can make them using endogenous cell material taken from the patient’s own body. This is why our work is of such interest in the treatment of diabetes,” said Fussenegger.

Fussenegger and his group have made these beta cells in the laboratory, but they have yet to transplant them into a diabetic patient. However, the success of this synthetic genetic software technology might also be useful in the reprogramming of adult cells into other types of cells that are useful for therapeutic purposes.

Encapsulated Human Islet Cells Halt Diabetes for 6 Months in Mice


Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston’s Children Hospital, and several other institutions have successfully used human pancreatic islet cells encased in a porous capsule to halt Type 1 diabetes in mice without causing an adverse immune response for six months. These experiments been reported in two separate scientific journals.

The first study utilized a modified alginate material to encapsulate the pancreatic islet cells. Alginate is a material that originally was derived from brown algae, and has been used to encapsulate cells without harming them or preventing them from sensing and responding to biochemical signals.

Despite all these advantages to alginate, nonspecific kept theior immune responses against it eventually result in the build up of scar tissue around alginate capsules that renders any implanted cells placed inside them ineffective.

The MIT group tested modified alginate derivatives that would not elicit this nonspecific immune response. From a library of over 800 alginate derivatives, the group came upon one particular alginate derivative called triazolethiomorpholine dioxide (TMTD).

To test TMTD capsules in diabetic mice, The MIT group teamed up with Harvard researcher Doug Melton, who supplied human pancreatic beta cells derived from human embryonic stem cells. Once the TMTD-encased beta cells were implanted into mice suffering from type 1 diabetes, the cells immediately began producing insulin in response to increases in blood glucose levels. Diabetic, laboratory mice with these islet cell TMTD-encased implants kept their blood glucose levels within a healthy range for 174 days, which was the whole length of the study.

“Encapsulation therapies have the potential to be groundbreaking for people with Type 1 Diabetes. These treatments aim to effectively establish long-term insulin independence and eliminate the daily burden of managing the disease for months, possibly years, at a time without the need for immune suppression,” said Julia Greenstein, an executive with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, who funded these two studies.

See here and here.

Rebooting Pancreatic Cells Can Normalize Blood Sugar Levels in Diabetic Mice


Type 1 diabetes results from the inability of the endocrine portion of the pancreas to secrete sufficient quantities of the hormone insulin. The cells that make insulin, beta cells, have been destroyed. Consequently, type 1 diabetics must inject themselves with insulin routinely in order to stay alive. Is there a better way?

A new strategy suggests that maybe pancreatic cells can be “rebooted” to produce insulin and that sure reprogramming could potentially help people with type 1 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels without the need for daily injections. This therapeutic approach is simpler and potentially safer than giving people stem cells that have been differentiated into pancreatic beta cells.

Philippe Lysy at the Cliniques Universitaires Saint Luc, which is part of the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, and his colleagues have reprogrammed pancreatic duct cells extracted from dead donors who were not diabetic at the time of death. The duct cells do not produce insulin, but they have a natural tendency to grow and differentiate into specific types of cells.

Lysy and his team grew the cells in the laboratory and encouraged them to become insulin-producing cells by exposing them to fatty particles. These fatty particles are absorbed into the cells after which they induce the synthesis of the MAFA transcription factor. MAFA acts as a genetic “switch” that binds to DNA and activates insulin production.

Implantation of these altered cells into diabetic mice showed that the cells were able to secrete insulin in a way that controls blood sugar levels. “The results are encouraging,” says Lysy.

Lysy’s colleague, Elisa Corritore, reported these results at this week’s annual meeting of the European Society for Pediatric Endocrinology in Barcelona, Spain. Lysy and others are preparing to submit their results for publication.

This work, if it continues to pan out, might lead to the harvesting of pancreatic ducts from deceased donors and converted in bulk into insulin-making cells. Such “off-the-shelf” cells could then be transplanted into people with type 1 diabetes to compensate for their inability to make their own insulin.

“We would hope to put the cells in a device under the skin that isolates them from the body’s immune system, so they’re not rejected as foreign,” says Lysy. He says devices like this are already being tested for their ability to house insulin-producing cells derived from stem cells.

Previous attempts to get round this problem have included embedding insulin-producing cells in a seaweed derivative prior to transplantation in order to keep them from being destroyed by the recipient’s immune system.

Lysy thinks that since insulin-producing cells originate from pancreatic tissue, they have an inherently lower risk of becoming cancerous after the transplant. This has always been a worry associated with tissues produced from embryonic stem cells, since these have the capability to form tumors if any are left in their original state in the transplanted tissue.

The basic premise of the work looks solid, says Juan Dominguez-Bendala, director of stem cell development for Translational Research at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Diabetes Research Institute in Florida. “However, until a peer-reviewed manuscript is published and all the details of the work become available to the scientific community, it is difficult to judge if this advance represents a meaningful leap in the state of the art.”

Lysy expects it will take between three and five years before the technique is ready to be tested in human clinical trials.

Some Types of Obesity Might be Caused by a Faulty Immune System


When we think of our Immune systems, we normally entertain visions of white blood cells that fight off invading viruses and bacteria. However, recent work suggests that our immune systems may also being fighting a war against fat.

When laboratory mice are engineered to lack a specific type of immune cell, they become obese and show signs of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Even though these findings have yet to be replicated in humans, they are already helping scientists understand the triggers of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions associated with obesity.

A new study “definitely moves the field forward,” says immunologist Vishwa Deep Dixit of the Yale School of Medicine, who was not involved in the work. “The data seem really solid.”

Scientists have known for some time now that there is a correlation between inflammation—a heightened immune response—and obesity. Fat cells have the ability to release inflammatory molecules, which complicates these findings, since it is difficult to distinguish if the inflammation causes weight gain or is a side effect of weight gain.

Immunologist Yair Reisner of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, came upon this new cellular link between obesity and the immune system while he was studying autoimmune diseases. Reinser was interested in an immune molecule called perforin, which kills diseased cells by boring a hole in their outer membrane. Reisner’s group suspected that perforin-containing dendritic cells might also be destroying the body’s own cells in some autoimmune diseases. To test their hypothesis, Reisner and his colleagues engineered mice that lacked perforin-wielding dendritic cells. Then they waited to see whether they developed any autoimmune conditions.

“We were looking for conventional autoimmune diseases,” Reisner says. “Quite surprisingly, we found that the mice gained weight and developed metabolic syndrome.”

Mice lacking the dendritic cells with perforin had high levels of cholesterol, early signs of insulin resistance, and molecular markers in their bloodstreams associated with heart disease and high blood pressure. Furthermore, the immune systems of these laboratory animals revealed that they also had a peculiar balance of T cells—a type of white blood cell that directs immune responses.

Reisner and his colleagues report online in the journal Immunity that when they removed these T cells from the mice, the absence of dendritic cells no longer caused the animals to become obese or develop metabolic syndrome.

The results, according to Reisner, suggest that the normal role of the perforin-positive dendritic cells is to keep certain populations of T cells under control. In the same way that perforin acts to kill cells infected with viruses, it can be directed to kill subsets of unnecessary T cells. When the brakes are taken off those T cells, they cause inflammation in fat cells, which leads to altered metabolism and weight gain.

“We are now working in human cells to see if there is something similar going on there,” Reisner says. “I think this is the beginning of a new focus on a new regulatory cell.” If these results turn out to be true in humans, they could point toward a way to use the immune system to treat obesity and metabolic disease.

Daniel Winer, an endocrine pathologist at the University of Toronto in Canada and the lead author of a January Diabetes paper that links perforin to insulin resistance, says the new results overlap with his study. Winer and his group found that mice whose entire immune systems lack perforin developed the early stages of diabetes when fed a high-fat diet. This new paper builds on that by homing in on perforin-positive dendritic cells and showing the link even in the absence of a high-fat diet. “It provides further evidence that the immune system has an important role in the regulation of both obesity and insulin resistance.”

Even if the results hold true in humans, however, a treatment for Type 2 diabetes, obesity or metabolic disease are far off. Dixit said. “Talking about therapeutics at this point would be a bit of a stretch.” Injecting perforin into the body could kill cells beyond those T cells that promoting obesity. We can’t live without any T cells at all, since they are vital to fight diseases and infections.

However, research on what these T cells are recognizing when they seek out fat cells and cause inflammation in fat tissue could eventually reveal drug targets.

University of Iowa Team Creates Insulin-Producing Cells from Skin Cells


A research team from the University of Iowa has designed a protocol that can create insulin-producing cells that help normalize blood-sugar levels in diabetic mice from skin cells. This discovery represents one of the first steps toward developing patient-specific cell replacement therapy for Type 1 diabetes. This research, which was led by Nicholas Zavazava from the department of internal medicine, was published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Zavazava and his coworker used human skin cells taken from punch biopsies and reprogrammed them to into induced pluripotent stem cells. These induced pluripotent stem cells were then differentiated in culture into pancreatic insulin-producing beta cells.

In culture, Zavazava’s cell made insulin in response to increased concentrations, but when they were implanted into diabetic mice, these cells responded to glucose, secreted insulin and worked to lower the blood-sugar levels in the mice to normal or near-normal levels.

Mind you, these induced pluripotent stem cell-derived beta cells were not as effective as pancreatic cells in controlling blood sugar levels, according to Zavazava in a UI news release. However, Zavazava and his team views the cells’ response in mice as an “encouraging first step” toward the goal of generating effective insulin-producing cells that potentially could be used to not just treat but cure Type 1 diabetes in humans.

“This raises the possibility that we could treat patients with diabetes with their own cells,” Zavazava said. “That would be a major advance, which will accelerate treatment of diabetes.”

Zavazava is also a member of UI’s Fraternal Order of Eagles Diabetes Research Center. This center is one of several groups whose aim is to create an alternative source of insulin-producing cells that can replace the pancreatic beta cells that die off in people with Type 1 diabetes.

According to the UI news release, this study is the first to use human induced pluripotent stem cells instead of embryonic stem cells to generate insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells. This protocol has the advantage of creating beta cells from a patient’s own cells include. This would eliminate the need to wait for a donor pancreas, since pancreas transplants are an option for treating Type 1 diabetes, but the demand for transplants is much greater than the availability of organs from deceased donors. The use of induced pluripotent stem cells would also eliminate the need for transplant patients to take immunosuppressive drugs. Finally, the use of induced pluripotent stem cells would also avoid the ethical concerns with treatments based on embryonic stem cells.