Did you hear?
Researchers have recently succeeded in triggering adult cells in the pancreas (outside of the pancreatic islets) to transform into insulin-producing beta cells. This research involved mice . . . but we all know that means there's a possibility of reproducing this in adult humans. This could be a huge breakthrough in treating diabetes mellitus (DM) of course . . . and perhaps many other conditions.
The researchers used viruses to infect adult pancreatic cells with three regulatory genes that caused the developmental changes that transformed them into insulin-producing cells. This is remarkable at several levels, not the least of which is that this did NOT involve the use of embryonic cells or adult cells that were first "rolled back" to an earlier developmental stage.
If you want to learn more, check out these FREE resources:
Researchers Create Insulin-Producing Cells from Adult Pancreatic Cells
HHMI Research News
Published online: 27 August 2008
[Short summary of the research; has a really nice image showing the new beta cells outside the existing pancreatic islets]
Smash the (Cell) State!
Nature Reports Stem Cells
Published online: 27 August 2008 | doi:10.1038/stemcells.2008.115
[Longer article that outlines the significance of this breakthrough in the context of understanding the developmental states of cells; includes comprehensive list of references]
This is a great little bite of information to drop into your pancreatic islet discussion, or your cell discussion, or your discussion of the process of science. It's also a good illustration of how animal research affects the understanding of human biology.