How To Reverse Diabetes
Using induced pluripotent stem cells produced from the skin of a patient with a rare, genetic form of insulin-dependent diabetes called Wolfram syndrome, researchers transformed the human stem cells into insulin-producing cells and used the gene-editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 to correct a genetic defect that had caused the syndrome. They then implanted the cells into lab mice and cured the unrelenting diabetes in those mice.
The findings, from researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, suggest the CRISPR-Cas9 technique may hold promise as a treatment for diabetes, particularly the forms caused by a single gene mutation, and it also may be useful one day in some patients with the more common forms of diabetes, such as type 1 and type 2.
Wolfram syndrome is caused by mutations to a single gene, providing the researchers an opportunity to determine whether combining stem cell technology with CRISPR to correct the genetic error also might correct the diabetes caused by the mutation. Patients with Wolfram syndrome develop diabetes during childhood or adolescence and quickly require insulin-replacement therapy, requiring insulin injections multiple times each day. Most go on to develop problems with vision and balance, as well as other issues, and in many patients, the syndrome contributes to an early death.
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have transformed stem cells into insulin-producing cells. They used the CRISPR gene-editing tool to correct a defect that caused a form of diabetes, and implanted the cells into mice to reverse diabetes in the animals. Shown is a microscopic image of insulin-secreting beta cells (insulin is green) that were made from stem cells produced from the skin of a patient with Wolfram syndrome.
“This is the first time CRISPR has been used to fix a patient’s diabetes-causing genetic defect and successfully reverse diabetes,” said co-senior investigator Jeffrey R. Millman, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine and of biomedical engineering at Washington University. “For this study, we used cells from a patient with Wolfram syndrome because, conceptually, we knew it would be easier to correct a defect caused by a single gene. But we see this as a stepping stone toward applying gene therapy to a broader population of patients with diabetes.”
The study is published online in the journal Science Translational Medicine.