One of the major challenges of using transplanted islet cells in the treatment of type 1 diabetes is cell death. Due to cellular stressors, poor oxygenation or vascularization, autoimmune response, and other factors, not all transplanted cells survive, and this can make treatment less effective. The body needs functional insulin-producing islet cells in order to effectively regulate blood sugar levels.
A recent study found that coculturing allogeneic islet beta cells with mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) may improve not only cell survival, but function as well. After donor cells are procured, they must be cultured and tested before being transplanted. This can generate significant cellular stress including hypoxia or low oxygenation, which can in turn lead to cell death. However, researchers found that MSCs support islet cells during this culture period by improving oxygenation and insulin secretion.
They also found that in response to these stressors, MSCs actually initiate mitochondria transfer to the islet beta cells. This may improve mitochondrial ATP generation which plays an integral role in controlling insulin secretion. As a result, as glucose levels around the beta cells increased, so did their production and secretion of insulin.
Researchers experimented with this coculturing process with both mouse cells and human cells and found that human cells have a greater response and higher level of MSC-mediated mitochondria transfer that occurs. Though more extensive testing is necessary, these results show that MSCs may be an essential part of clinical islet transplantation and improved efficacy of beta cell function in treating individuals with type 1 diabetes.
Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) is interested to see how this study evolves moving forward and what it may mean for future therapeutic treatments for the disease. The DRC, though not involved in this study, provides critical funding for early career scientists pursuing novel, peer-reviewed research projects for type 1 diabetes. Click to learn more about current projects and provide support.