News of Note—Semma plans trials of stem-cell-derived islets in diabetes; Scientists grow hair from stem cells

Semma to start human trials of stem-cell-derived islets in diabetes

Harvard-born Semma Therapeutics, which has been perfecting its method of turning stem cells into insulin-producing cells to treat diabetes, announced plans to initiate two clinical trials of its method in 2020. The company said it had achieved proof-of-concept of its stem-cell derived islets in studies in non-human primates and pigs. In non-human primate models of diabetes, the islets—which were infused into the portal vein—engrafted and were fully functional. They reduced the need for insulin by 60%. In pigs that received the stem cells along with an immune-protective device the company developed, the cells survived and eliminated the need for drugs to prevent immunosuppression. The results were presented at the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) Annual Meeting. (Release)

Hair growth from stem cells?

In another study presented at the ISSCR conference, researchers from Sanford Burnham Prebys demonstrated they could produce growing hair from human induced pluripotent stem cells. They used a particular type of cell in hair follicles called dermal papilla. Although the team had previously prompted hair to grow in mice by creating dermal papilla from stem cells, they had trouble controlling the process. So they built a 3D scaffold that can help the cells integrate into the skin while at the same time controlling the direction of hair growth, they said. They believe the technique could help people who experience hair loss due to a variety of conditions, including aging, burn injuries and medical conditions. (Release)

Researchers propose a new Alzheimer’s target in neurons’ 'spines'

Dendritic spines are connections between neurons that become damaged in Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Now researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham say they’ve found an enzyme that promotes the degradation of dendritic spines. When they inhibited the enzyme, called LIMK1, in mice they were able to increase the density and length of the spines. They accomplished that by giving the animals a single daily dose of SR7826, an experimental cancer drug. Previous research from the same lab showed that people with more dendritic spines and longer spines did not develop symptoms of dementia, even if there were signs of the amyloid plaques and tau tangles that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s in their brains. The researchers believe their research, published in the journal Science Signaling, could inspire new strategies for fighting the disease by targeting LIMK1. (Release)