Science

How Your Brain Could Fix Your Diabetes

No, I don’t mean by willing yourself to eat less sugar. Scientists in Japan have shown that implanting brain cells into a rat pancreas was a successful treatment for diabetes — rat diabetes.

In humans, the disease affects about 200 million people worldwide. It costs us about $US174 billion per year (that figure from 2007, it has likely increased), and in that same year it was the seventh leading cause of death. So if the the results could be repeated in humans, that would obviously be amazing.

In a press release, the scientists suggest that exactly that is their goal.

Tomoko Kuwabars and his colleagues at AIST Institute in Tsukuba, Japan, extracted neural stem cells from the hippocampus of rats, then injected them directly into the animals’ pancreases. The rats, which had been engineered to exhibit symptoms of diabetes, showed lower blood sugar levels (a good thing, since diabetes can dangerously increase blood sugar levels) after the brain cell injection. The scientists tested their theory that the neuronal cells were pumping out insulin by removing them, after which blood sugar levels went back up.

“Dr Kuwabara’s team found that transplanting neural stem cells directly into the pancreas can unleash their intrinsic ability to act as critical regulators of insulin production, and most importantly they demonstrated that the cells could be gained from a patient without the need for genetic manipulation,” wrote Onur Basak and Hans Clevers of the Hubrecht Institute for Development Biology and Stem Cell Research, in a paper published in the same issue of EMBO Molecular Medicine.

As I wrote recently, scientists can regenerate foetal neural stem cells practically forever, so they could be a sustainable source of therapeutic cells. But using a patients’ own cells would eliminate the controversy of taking cells from aborted fetuses or embryos. Then we could all just get along. [EMBO Molecular Medicine; Shutterstock/Creations]