Montreal, 17 July 2008 – The question of whether insulin-producing cells of the pancreas can regenerate is key to our understanding of diabetes, and to the further development of regenerative therapies against the disease. Dr Rosenberg from the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and McGill University together with Dr Bernard Massie from the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CHUM) have just concluded that they can. The results of their study have been published in the July issue of the journal Laboratory Investigation.
The researchers have shown in vitro that insulin-producing β-cells (beta cells) can return to a more primitive developmental state called stem-like cells. This process is known as "dedifferentiation" and highlights the plasticity of this cell type. This same result has also been validated for the three additional types of cells that – along with β-cells – make up the islets of Langerhans. Together, these islet cells produce insulin and other hormones in the pancreas.
"The potential for dedifferentiation of all the different cells that make up the islets of Langerhans is a totally new finding," Dr. Rosenberg said.
"At this stage, we can't confirm whether the cells' ability to turn into stem-like cells occur naturally in a healthy pancreas, but the results are very encouraging for the development of regenerative therapies to fight diabetes," he continued. The cell's in-vitro plasticity opens up totally new avenues of investigation into the underlying causes of diabetes, and will validate the development of innovative treatments.
This study is the latest step in an extensive regenerative therapies research program based on a peptide called Islet Neogenesis Associated Protein, or INGAP. Dr. Rosenberg and his colleagues have demonstrated INGAP's potential to induce new islet formation in the pancreas. Clinical trials with INGAP have already demonstrated that it is possible to regrow new functional insulin-producing cells in diabetic patients.
"We know that the peptide works, but we are still lacking certain theoretical bases to explain its mechanism," said Dr. Rosenberg. "This finding will allow us to move ahead on firmer ground."
Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg is Chief of the Division of Surgical Research, and Professor of Surgery and Medicine at McGill's Faculty of Medicine. He holds the A.G. Thompson Chair in Surgical Research at the MUHC, and also is an investigator in the Endocrinology, Diabetes, Nutrition and Kidney Diseases Axis of the Research Institute of the MUHC.
This study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Stem Cell Network of Canada. Additional support was provided with fellowships from the Canadian Diabetes Association/CIHR and the Fonds de Recherche en Santé du Québec (FRSQ). Dr. Rosenberg was supported as a chercheur national by the FRSQ.
The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI MUHC) is a world-renowned biomedical and health-care hospital research centre. Located in Montreal, Quebec, the institute is the research arm of the MUHC, the university health center affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University. The institute supports over 600 researchers, nearly 1200 graduate and post-doctoral students and operates more than 300 laboratories devoted to a broad spectrum of fundamental and clinical research. The Research Institute operates at the forefront of knowledge, innovation and technology and is inextricably linked to the clinical programs of the MUHC, ensuring that patients benefit directly from the latest research-based knowledge. The Research Institute of the MUHC is supported in part by the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec. For further details visit: www.muhc.ca/research.
About McGill University
McGill, Canada's leading university, has two campuses, 11 faculties, 10 professional schools, 300 programs of study and more than 33,000 students. Since 2000, more than 800 professors have been recruited to McGill to share their energy, ideas and cutting-edge research. McGill attracts students from more than 160 countries around the world. Almost half of McGill students claim a first language other than English – including 6,000 francophones – with more than 6,200 international students making up almost 20 per cent of the student body.
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