The pancreatic cell clusters were developed with stem cell technology and were able to avoid detection by the immune system. That means the body did not reject these clusters which went on to control blood glucose without the use of immunosuppressive drugs once the clusters were injected into the body. Transplanting pancreatic beta islets, which are clusters of cells that produce insulin and other hormones into patients has been possible in the past, but it has required type 1 diabetes patients to take life-long immunosuppressing drugs. And those immune-suppressing medications carry health risks in the best of circumstances and are exacerbated during a global pandemic. Researchers have sought to find ways to improve this procedure and replenish those lost pancreatic cells in patients.
In a previous study conducted by the Salk Institute, stem-cell-derived beta-like cells produced insulin, but were not powerful enough to benefit patients. The cells did not release insulin in response to glucose production. A breakthrough came in the lab of Ronald Evans. His team discovered a genetic switch called ERR-gamma that when flipped, “turbo-charges” the cells, the institute explained in a statement.
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