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Synthetic biology

Designer cells treat diabetic mice

Nature volume 540, page 319 (15 December 2016) | Download Citation

Kidney cells grown in the lab have been engineered to both sense and quickly respond to changes in blood glucose levels.

In diabetes, cells in the pancreas called β cells are either absent or do not produce the correct amount of insulin to regulate blood glucose levels. Jörg Stelling and Martin Fussenegger at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich in Basel and their colleagues genetically modified human kidney cells to enable the cells to detect blood glucose levels and produce an appropriate amount of either insulin or another hormone called GLP-1, which stimulates insulin production. The cells brought blood sugar levels down to normal when implanted into mice with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, without notable adverse effects.

In mice with type 1 diabetes, the 'designer' cells were more efficient at restoring normal glucose levels after a three-week period than implanted β cells.

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