Our goal is to develop insulin-producing beta cells for use as a cell therapy treatment for diabetes in the future. There has been a lot of progress in this area but fully mature and transplantable beta cells that can cure diabetes haven’t been made yet. To make progress we plan to:
Starting with human pluripotent stem cells (embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells) we aim to explore how to encourage these cells to make firstly endoderm cells, then pancreatic endoderm cells and then insulin–producing beta cells. Looking at the signals that drive cells through this step-wise path and the genes that are expressed as a result will help us learn how to encourage the cells to make beta cells. Initially we need to separate endoderm cells from the starter stem cells so we are developing fluorescent tags that are only revealed in these cells. From these we can look at producing pancreatic endoderm cells that can self-renew effectively in the lab. Ultimately we aim to produce from these insulin producing beta cells that can be transplanted into mice. This will allow us to test their survival rate, whether the cells produce insulin reliably and whether the transplanted cells are safe.
By exploring the detail of the signaling that lead cells through the step-wise pathway we can establish the best growth conditions for making self-renewing pancreatic endoderm cells and also functioning and transplantable insulin producing beta cells. As cells grow in 3D micro-environments in the body we are interested in exploring how different lab micro-environments effect the growth of the cells. We will test different surface topologies and chemicals to see how this effects cell growth. Optimising these methods will provide other scientists with the tools to produce these cells efficiently and reliably.
Our aim to create fluorescent tags means that other scientists will be able to sort endoderm cells, pancreatic endoderm cells and beta cells from other cells in the lab. This coupled with engineering optimal 2D and 3D surfaces for these cells to grow, including for clinical use, will hopefully lead to functional beta cells being grown clinically for transplantation.
Together with EuroStemCell we will engage in dialogue with various public groups to both share our work and listen to the public’s views on what we do. As our work may particularly impact on those affected by diabetes, we plan to ensure we work with this community. Please do get in touch if you have ideas on how we can best do this.