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An exciting step closer to a cure for diabetes starts with a bit of gastric tissue. Joe Zhou’s lab works on tissue regeneration and repair and organ regeneration. In this podcast, he discusses a life-changing possibility alongside Richard’s thoughtful questions.

They take listeners across a new frontier of research, covering

  • How insulin-producing beta cells have been destroyed in those who have type 1 diabetes, requiring them to inject manufactured insulin,
  • How a process of converting beta cells from a patient’s gastric tissue may solve numerous problems in other proposed solutions, and
  • What challenges are still to be met, including fine tuning the introduction of the new cells into the pancreas.

Joe Zhou is a Professor of Regenerative Medicine at Cornell University.

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While the broad interest of his lab is tissue and organ regeneration in humans, he discusses an advancement in a specific cell generation, a cell important to the diabetes and insulin connection. Many important organs, he explains, don’t have a robust ability to regenerate, including the pancreas. In type 1 diabetes, the insulin-producing beta cells have been attacked as if they were foreign invaders. Injecting insulin doesn’t give these patients the fine tuning a working pancreas offers, and complications can be problematic and even severe.

Dr. Zhou gives listeners a well-organized and listener-friendly review of different ways scientists have tried to reintroduce these cells in patients and sets up a helpful backdrop to his own research. He explains how his work may provide hope for both types of diabetes, addressing insulin resistance as well through introducing these healthy beta cells.

His lab has been regenerating islet beta cells from human gastric tissue.

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The goal is to reintroduce those cells into the same patient, precluding rejection issues other transplant plans have caused. Basically, they are able to take adult gastric cells and treat them in a way to convert them directly to beta cells without having to return them to a pluripotent stage and all the complications that causes. They use powerful genes called master regulators to do this.

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“If we start with a select set of these master regulator beta cells,” he says, “and put in a different tissue, we can directly convert them from one tissue to another tissue.”

He continues by explaining why this is especially true for gastric cells, how they grow the cells with an ex-vivo approach and introduce the genes, and which processes they hope to refine in the future. He addresses other challenges and successes as well. So listen in for some good news in the field of diabetes research.

For more, see his lab’s website:

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