At the PDRC, the ultimate goal of diabetes researchers is to develop a cell-based therapy for Type 1 diabetes. One exciting avenue of diabetes research focuses on the derivation of beta cells from human embryonic stem cells. This approach may one day provide a new cell therapy to treat or cure the disease.
The Sander laboratory aims to identify effective processes to generate replacement insulin-producing cells for treatment of diabetes. In order to successfully initiate in vitro production of beta cells from stem cells, the Sander laboratory is investigating the molecular pathways that are important for beta cell formation in mice and humans.
Using genetic engineering in mice, Dr. Sander's research has identified key factors that promote the expansion of beta cell precursors as well as factors that promote the formation of beta cells from their precursors. The knowledge gained from these studies has been pivotal to recent advances in the in vitro differentiation of beta cells from human embryonic stem cells.
Dr. Sander and her research group continue to investigate potential beta cell precursor cells in adult tissues that could be "reprogrammed" into glucose-responsive insulin secreting cells. The ability to change a cell's fate to become a beta cell may provide a therapeutic approach to treat and cure diabetes.