AstraZeneca teams with Harvard to make human beta cells for drug screening

By Gareth Macdonald

- Last updated on GMT

Reliance on mouse beta cells a thing of the past?
Reliance on mouse beta cells a thing of the past?

Related tags Stem cell

Sourcing human beta cells may soon no longer be a challenge for AstraZeneca diabetes researchers thanks to a new partnership with stem cell scientists at Harvard University.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker announced its partnership with the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) today, explaining the collaboration will focus on converting stem cells into human beta cells for use in its diabetes drug candidate screening programme.

Bjorn Tyrberg, preclinical Diabetes Associate Principal Scientist at AstraZeneca, told us at present there is no readily available source of beta cells and instead the firm relies on cells from other species – rat INS-1 cells – or immortalised human EndoC BetaH1 cells.

The Harvard agreement is likely to change this according to Tyrberg, who said: “The novel thing about the Harvard’s approach​ is that it combines growth of cells in a 3D cluster with a special blend of differentiation factors that kicks the stem cells to transform into beta cells.”

The differentiation method was developed by Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator Professor Doug Melton, who has been working on methods to control the differentiation of human embryonic stem cells for almost a quarter of a century.

Melton will work with the AstraZeneca team at the drugmaker’s facility in Molndal, Sweden with the aim being to establish a dedicated beta cell production site.

The Big Pharma firm – which will fund the 5 year project – will use the cells to screen potential Type 1 and 2 treatment candidates, with the focus being to identify compounds that could restore beta cell activity in diabetic patients.

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