In an attempt to find a cure for type 1 diabetes, researchers are looking to an unlikely source: testicles. In a new study, researchers extracted stem cells drawn from human testes and reprogrammed them to produce insulin. When implanted into diabetic mice, the altered cells brought down the mice’s blood glucose levels, temporarily curing their diabetes.
In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system mistakenly destroys the pancreatic beta and alpha cells, which regulate blood glucose levels. Without the insulin created by their beta cells, diabetics experience high glucose levels that cause serious health problems.
Lead researcher G. Ian Gallicano and his colleagues took human spermatogonial stem cells–precursor cells that give rise to sperm–and reverted them to an embryonic state. Then the researchers coaxed them to develop into insulin-producing cells that resemble beta cells. Finally, they injected these pseudo-beta cells into the pancreases of mice with type 1 diabetes.
In a presentation on Sunday at the American Society for Cell Biology annual meeting, Gallicano said the graft was able to produce enough insulin to “cure” the mice of their diabetes for a week, though insulin levels were not high enough to treat humans this way.