Gut Cells May Be Used For Diabetes Treatment

By on June 30, 2014

A new study has found out the human gastrointestinal cells can be converted into insulin producing cells by switching off a single gene. Thereby, helps in curing diabetes.

This study was conducted by scientists at Columbia University’s Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center. Domenico Accili, MD, is the the study’s senior author and also the Russell Berrie Foundation Professor of Diabetes (in Medicine) at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). This study was published online in journal named Nature Communications.

The researchers of this study were able to demonstrate in principle that with the help of a drug, the cells that are present in the gastrointestinal tract of a person can be retained to produce insulin.

Domenico Accili said that there has been discussion from longtime about changing one cell into another, but until now a fully functional cell that produces insulin by manipulating a single target could not be created.

Diabetes Treatment - Gut CellsThe finding of the study raised the possibility of replacing insulin producing cells that are lost in type 1 diabetes through reeducation of existing cells, rather transplanting with new cells that are created from embryonic stem cells or adult stem cells.

Actually, body cells that produce insulin naturally are destroyed by immune system in type 1 diabetes. Researchers are trying hard since two decades to create surrogate cells that produce insulin in type 1 diabetes patients.

However, with the help of stem cells insulin producing cell could be created in lab. But, these cells do function fully as the naturally insulin producing pancreatic beta cells.

With this, some researchers tried the other way, i.e. transforming existing cells into insulin producing cell in type 1 diabetes patient.

According to a previous work done by Dr. Accili’s lab, intestinal cells in mouse can be converted in cells that produce insulin. And with the present study, the researchers were able to demonstrate that is technique also works in human cells.

The researchers of the present study were able to reeducate the gut cells in humans to produce insulin in accordance to the physiological circumstances by deactivating FOXO1 gene in gut cells.


Firstly, a tissue model of the human intestine was created with human pluripotent stem cells by Dr. Accili and postdoctoral fellow Ryotaro Bouchi. They deactivated the FOXO1 gene in gastrointestinal cells with the help of genetic engineering. After 7 days, some of the cells started producing insulin, that too only in response to glucose.

Dr. Accili said that this study has shown that human cells too act similar to mouse cells in reeducating intestinal cell to produce insulin. This has cleared a main hurdle in diabetes treatment. Next important thing is to find a drug that deactivates the FOXO1 gene in gastrointestinal cells.

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