Stanford researchers cure diabetes in mice using rat-grown organ

Researchers with Stanford University and the University of Tokyo have announced a new breakthrough treatment that successfully cured mice of diabetes using a rat-grown mouse pancreas. The achievement could help lead to future treatments — or possibly even a cure — for diabetes in humans. Even better, these lab grown organs are genetically matched to the recipient, meaning anti-rejection drugs only need to be taken for a few days rather than one's entire life.

The work is an exciting development not just for diabetes treatments, but also inter-species organ donations. Researchers have long envisioned a future in which human organs could be grown in sheep or pigs and then, once fully formed, transplanted into a human. That's just what happened here, only it involved growing a mouse pancreas in a lab rat.

The way about which the researchers went ahead with this experiment was a bit macabre on the surface, though. The rats were genetically engineered so that they wouldn't form their own pancreas. Instead, mouse pluripotent stem cells were implanted into the rat embryos, which then grew a pancreas using that material instead of its own.

The researchers then transplanted insulin-producing cells from the rats to the diabetic mice, which went on to show normal glucose levels for more than a year. It took as few as 100 'islets' — that is, clusters of the insulin-producing cells. The mice had to take immunosuppressant drugs for five days following transplant, which was necessary to deal with some of the rat cells that were transferred to the mouse during the transplant.

Of course, more research needs to be done before such treatments may be a viable option for humans. As well, the ethical debate surrounding such methods of sourcing transplant materials are yet to be hashed out.

SOURCE: Stanford University