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Finding a cure for type 1 diabetes includes two essential goals: growing insulin-producing beta cells and introducing them into patients successfully. Those two achievements appear fast-approaching yet also seem elusive. This podcast takes a closer look at these goals, interviewing one researcher studying how beta cells grow and mature.

Listen and learn

  • Where current research stands regarding endocrine system physiology, pancreatic beta cells, and diabetes,
  • What scientists understand about pancreatic beta cell development and pancreas function and what is still a mystery, and
  • How current stem-cell derived pancreatic cells are made and how well they function.

Diana Elena Stanescu is an assistant professor of pediatrics with the Department of Pediatrics at the Perlman School of Medicine with the University of Pennsylvania. She’s a physician scientist, treating patients and researching how beta cells develop, grow, and mature. “As a pediatrician,” she says, “everything is about growing, developing, maturing: I keep that perspective across my work.”

She adds that scientists think an initial cure for type 1 diabetes will center on cell replacement therapy: they’re finding ways to make embryonic cells become beta cells that make insulin. By looking at how beta cells develop and mature, she hopes to advise stem cell biologists on making better beta cells. While scientists have been able to make these cells, they are still too inefficient. Her work aims to change that.

Developmental biologists like her are therefore informing these stem cell biologists how these cells need to mimic what happens in normal development to a closer degree. They also need to produce an envelope in which to deliver these cells, protecting them from the body’s immune system. “We are able to do this in the lab but the problem is taking it from the lab and scaling up to a lot of people,” she says.

Furthermore, the cells don’t make enough insulin to meet the body’s demands. She’s directing her research towards making higher quality cells, so that the few cells that they are able to include in this envelope are of the best possible quality and efficiency. This means researching how cells determine their glucose threshold before insulin secretion and other issues like hyperinsulin condition, when babies actually make too much insulin. This work will hopefully lead scientists closer to a cure.

For more about her work, she welcomes getting in touch via email. See her information page at the University of Pennsylvania for more information.

Available on Apple Podcasts: apple.co/2Os0myK

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