A new study conducted at the University of Copenhagen, which has
just been published in the internationally acclaimed journal Nature
Cell Biology, shows how researchers using human stem cells can
produce insulin-producing cells that in the future can be
transplanted into diabetes patients.
(Watch explainer video at end of
'By identifying the signals that instruct mouse progenitor cells
to become cells that make tubes and later insulin-producing beta
cells, we can transfer this knowledge to human stem cells to more
robustly make beta cells, says Professor and Head of Department
Henrik Semb from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell
Biology at the Faculty of Health and Medical
The research group, which in addition to Henrik Semb consists of
Ph.D. Zarah Löf-Öhlin and assistant professor Pia Nyeng, among
others, originally set out to study how the body creates the
complex piping systems that transport fluids and gasses in our
They wanted to understand the machinery for instructing
progenitor cells into their different destinies. To their surprise,
the mechanism turned out to be simple. According to Assistant
Professor Pia Nyeng, these processes are mainly controlled by the
progenitors' ability to tell up from down (the cells' so-called
'It turns out that the same signal - the so-called epidermal
growth factor (EGF) pathway - control both the formation of pipes
and beta cells through polarity changes.
Therefore, the development of pancreatic progenitor into beta
cells depends on their orientation in the pipes. It is a really
amazing and simple mechanism, and by affecting the progenitor
cells' so-called polarity we can control their conversion into beta
cells', says Pia Nyeng.
The study is mainly based on tests performed on mice, but the
researchers decided to examine whether the same mechanism can be
found in human cells.
'Zarah Löf-Öhlin discovered that the same cell maturation
mechanism applies to the development of human cells. Now we can use
this knowledge to more efficiently turn human stem cells into beta
cells in the laboratory with the hope to use them to replace lost
beta cells in patients suffering from diabetes', says Henrik
The researchers expect regulation of cell polarity to be key to
the development of many other human cell types, for example nerve
cells. This may contribute to the development of stem cell therapy
targeted at other diseases.
'EGFR signalling controls cellular fate and pancreatic
organogenesis by regulating apicobasal polarity' has been
published in Nature Cell Biology.
Stem cells pave the way for new treatment of diabetes