Stem-Cell Generated Thymus Tissue to Catalyze New Treatments for Transplantation, Type 1 Diabetes and Other Autoimmune Diseases

UCSF Diabetes Center researchers Matthias Hebrok, PhD, and Mark Anderson, MD, PhD, have created in their labs the first functioning human thymus tissue derived from embryonic stem cells – a huge step forward in producing new cell therapies to treat numerous diseases including type 1 diabetes.

Funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Anderson, an immunologist, and Dr. Hebrok, a stem cell researcher and the director of the Diabetes Center, assembled a unique set of growth factors to create a developmental pathway for the thymic cells. They eventually perfected their procedure and produced functional thymic tissue -- a discovery with profound implications for science and medicine.

Published in today’s online edition of the journal Cell Stem Cell, this is the first successful effort to replicate a key component of the immune system.  This lab-generated thymic tissue nurtures the growth of immune cells called T cells. Not only do these T cells respond to immune system threats such as viruses or bacteria, they prevent the immune system from attacking itself in the case of type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases.

Drs. Anderson and Hebrok are hopeful that their research may also help improve organ/tissue transplantation and cellular based therapy -- eliminating the need for powerful and costly immunosuppression.

Additional study authors include UCSF Diabetes Center postdoctoral fellows Audrey Parent, PhD, Holger Russ, PhD, and graduate students Imran Khan, Taylor LaFlam, and Todd Metzger.

More information on this new, exciting tool to alter the immune system may be found at these links.

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