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Diabetes Research at the McGowan Institute

The overall goal of current McGowan Institute diabetes research is to better understand normal in vivo mechanisms of pancreatic differentiation. Scientists can then later apply this knowledge to create engineered cells for replacement therapy and cure insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.

Using Stem Cells to Treat Diabetes

George Gittes, MD, studies extracellular signaling mechanisms since they could more easily apply such pathways to the stem cell populations currently available.

Early data in stem cell labs has shown some promising success with changing these stem cell populations toward an insulin-positive phenotype.

Ipsita Banerjee, PhD, and Prashant Kumta, PhD — are leading a multi-university study on human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs). The focus of the study is on the use of hPSCs to engineer pancreatic islets in the lab.

A major goal of the research is to design a method of vascularizing islets in vitro — literally “in glass.” Studies suggest this method will lead to higher viability and enhanced function after the transplant.

Another study highlights the potential of reprogramming a diabetic patient’s own pancreatic cells into insulin-producing cellsKathryn Whitehead, PhD, McGowan Institute faculty member from Carnegie Mellon University, is leading this research.

Future research will look at:

  • Alternative transcription factors that may result in more efficient reprogramming.
  • The option to rewire the exocrine cells in vivo — the most likely route to the clinic versus ex vivo techniques.

A clinically viable delivery method that promotes high levels of mRNA expression in pancreatic cells will help us achieve in vivo reprogramming.