Researchers have been exploring the potential of stem cell therapies for years, however this is a very challenging endeavor because there are many factors that influence cell development, differentiation, and fate. In the case of type 1 diabetes, researchers have been studying methods for preventing the destruction of insulin-producing beta cells, stimulating the generation of new cells, and directing differentiation of stem cells among other strategies.
In a recent study, scientists focused on enhancing cell-to-cell communication in order to influence differentiation of embryonic stem cells. They examined the role of Connexin 43 (Cx43) specifically, which is a gap junction (GJ) channel protein. Scientists found that by using the AAP10 peptide to activate Cx43 GJ channels, they could steer differentiation of cells toward definitive endoderm and primitive gut tube lineages. In turn, with improved communication between cells triggered by the AAP10 peptide, definitive endoderm cells were more likely to become pancreatic progenitors and pancreatic endocrine progenitors.
Pancreatic progenitors (PP) and pancreatic endocrine progenitors (PE) play a role in the development of pancreatic islet cells which produce insulin and glucagon. These are the same cells that the body mistakenly attacks and destroys in individuals with type 1 diabetes. The ability to influence the differentiation of human embryonic stem cells into PPs and PEs may support improved cell replacement therapies for diabetes.
There is still a great deal of research to be done as it is difficult to manipulate the mechanisms of cell communication in order to produce desired results. Scientists are also continuing to investigate whether improved intercellular communication could lead to an increased production of pancreatic islet cells.
Researchers involved in this study include Dr. Wendy Yang, Dr. Laura Crisa, and Dr. Vincenzo Cirulli. Yang’s research is funded by Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) and Crisa and Cirulli are part of the DRC’s scientific review committee. To learn more about the DRC and the funding it provides to support type 1 diabetes research, visit http://diabetesresearchconnection.org.