American researchers from Harvard University have been able to engineer stem cells to have a “homing” molecule, which steers them towards the pancreas after being injected into the body.


Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are a type of adult stem cell that have strong effects on reducing inflammation and immune moderation.

In earlier studies, MSCs were shown to reduce blood glucose levels in non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice to a certain degree, but were not able to cure the mice of diabetes. The MSCs were injected into the blood stream, but were unable to find their way to the pancreas. MSCs cannot be injected directly into the pancreas as toxic enzymes are released that damage the pancreas.

In this new study, the researchers were able to modify the MSCs to express a homing protein called HCELL. When these modified cells were injected into NOD mice, they were directed to the pancreas and attached themselves to inflamed islet cells, resulting in the normalisation of blood glucose levels.

This study is an important step in developing MSCs as a future therapy for type 1 diabetes and other immune disorders. Further pre-clinical studies to test the sustained effect and safety of the MSCs are required before human trials can begin.

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