Globally, 415 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes. These people lack the ability to produce sufficient amounts of insulin, which regulates the blood sugar in the body. This can lead to a number of complications and in many cases be potentially fatal.
The findings showed that regulation of cell polarity is the key to the development of many other human cell types, for example, nerve cells as well for transmitting signals in neurons.
Cell polarity is the asymmetric organization of several cellular components, including its plasma membrane, cytoskeleton or organelles.
In the study, published in the journal Nature Cell Biology, the researchers examined how the body creates the complex piping systems that transport fluids and gases in our organs to understand the machinery for instructing progenitor cells into their different destinies.
"By identifying the signals that instruct mouse progenitor cells to become cells that make tubes and later insulin-producing beta cells, we can transfer this knowledge to human stem cells to more robustly make beta cells," said Henrik Semb, Professor at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.
The researchers discovered that the same signal -- the so-called epidermal growth factor (EGF) pathway -- controls both the formation of pipes and beta cells through polarity changes.
"Therefore, the development of pancreatic progenitor into beta cells depends on their orientation in the pipes," the researchers explained.
While the study was mainly based on tests performed on mice, the researchers found that the same cell maturation mechanism applies to the development of human cells.
"Now we can use this knowledge to more efficiently turn human stem cells into beta cells in the laboratory with the hope to use them to replace lost beta cells in patients suffering from diabetes," Semb stated.