The Serup Group in Copenhagen break new ground on the development of a stem cell therapy to treat diabetes

The Serup Group in Copenhagen break new ground on the development of a stem cell therapy to treat diabetes

Patients with type one diabetes are currently treated with insulin injections, but there are limitations with this type of treatment. Assistant Professor Philip Seymour, former Assistant Professor Nina Funa and PhD student Heidi Mjøseng, with colleagues from the Serup Group at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Medicine, reNEW, University of Copenhagen, have had a paper published in Stem Cell Reports investigating further development of a cellular therapy to replace the lost insulin-producing beta cells in type one diabetics.

Over 20 years ago, islet transplantation was demonstrated to provide long-term management of symptoms in type one diabetes. Unfortunately, tissue availability remains a major obstacle to this approach: islets – containing insulin-producing beta cells – from two donor pancreases are required for each transplantation. Stem cells, however, hold the promise of being able to generate almost unlimited numbers of beta cells for transplantation.

If you make stem cells into early gut cells, they can then become either pancreas, liver or intestinal tissue. Former Assistant Professor Nina Funa initially screened for different factors which push stem cells towards becoming pancreas cells instead of liver or intestinal cells. Those “hits” led her to delve into two signaling pathways involved in the pancreas vs. liver “fate” decision of early gut cells; the Wnt and TGF-β pathways. What this paper investigates is how those pathways interact with each other in this process.

“We have discovered that if we inhibit Wnt early on when the cells are becoming pancreas cells, or if we promote TGF-β we can actually make high numbers of insulin cells every time, with every differentiation, which should be really helpful for producing beta cells with possible transplantation purposes in the future,” said Dr Seymour.

Responsible for this paper, the Serup Group at Copenhagen University was led by Professor Palle Serup. Professor Serup worked on the pancreas over many decades of his career until passing away after illness in December 2023. The publication of this paper would not have been possible without his generous mentorship, unparalleled knowledge and passionate commitment to his work in this field.

“I think Palle would be very proud that we’ve got this done. This paper forms part of his legacy and it was important for us, from that perspective, to get this work out there for people to see,” said co-first-author Heidi Mjøseng.

The translational perspectives of this paper, and the findings within, are an exciting development for the field of stem cell research. Not only do they advance a potential cell-based therapy for diabetes, but they also provide key knowledge for other areas of stem cell and developmental biology research.

Read the full paper in Stem Cell Reports here.

Esteemed colleagues from reNEW elected members of EMBO

The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Medicine is proud to announce that CEO and Executive Director of reNEW, Professor Mellissa H. Little and Principal Investigator at reNEW’s Copenhagen node, Professor Joshua Brickman, have this year been elected members of the prestigious European Molecular Biology Organization – EMBO.

4M euros for research into nuclear metabolism

Associate Professor Jan Żylicz from reNEW Copenhagen node, as part of an international consortium, has been awarded an MSCA Doctoral Networks Grant for project; NUCLEAR – metabolic regulation of genome function and cell identity.