AstraZeneca and Joslin Diabetes Center set up collaboration to advance the study and treatment of type 2 diabetes

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

AstraZeneca and Joslin Diabetes Center today announced they have signed a research collaboration using stem cells to generate novel research tools and methods to facilitate further understanding of the underlying causes of type 2 diabetes.

Current estimates indicate that there are 285 million people with diabetes (aged 20-79 years) worldwide, of whom more than 90% have type 2 diabetes. By 2030, that number is projected to increase to more than 430 million people worldwide suffering from diabetes and its complications.

In patients with type 2 diabetes the number and function of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas gradually deteriorates until they can no longer control blood glucose. This eventually causes patients to require injected insulin.

The initial focus of the four-year collaboration will be to use induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells 1) from healthy and diabetic adult patients’ skin tissue to create human pancreatic beta cells. These can then be screened to identify novel therapeutic targets that could one day become medicines to treat patients suffering from diabetes.

“iPS cells generated from people with diabetes theoretically provide a unique and inexhaustible source of cells that closely recapitulate the genetics of diabetes and its complications,” said George L. King, M.D., Joslin’s Chief Scientific Officer and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “As such, iPS cells can be used to study the underlying causes of diabetes and the mechanisms of the complications it causes, and they may one day provide a source of patient-specific ‘replacement’ cells for treating type 2 diabetes.”

“We are especially excited to adapt the rapidly evolving science of iPS cells in our constant endeavours to gain a better understanding of the pathophysiology of type 2 diabetes to allow for more effective treatments—a major priority for Joslin,” said Rohit N. Kulkarni, M.D., Ph.D., Joslin Investigator and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Affiliate Faculty for the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

“AstraZeneca is committed to innovative research in the area of diabetes. We are delighted to combine our drug-hunting expertise with the pioneering research ongoing at the Joslin Diabetes Center,” said Björn Wallmark, Vice President for Cardiovascular and Gastrointestinal Science at AstraZeneca. “Our view is that regenerative medicine and stem cell research have the potential to offer new and innovative routes to address high unmet medical needs.”

1 Pluripotent stem cells maintain the capacity to generate virtually every cell type in the body. As such, these cells are invaluable tools for research into the mechanisms of tissue formation and the development of disease. They also represent a promising source of “replacement cells” for tissue repair. Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells are generated by virus-mediated delivery into differentiated adult cells of particular protein factors or by chemical activation of those proteins within the target cells. Because iPS cells retain the same genetic make-up as the cell targeted for reprogramming, iPS cells are uniquely informative for the study of diseases which are genetically complex or which lack adequate culture-based or animal models. For this reason, iPS cells are extremely valuable for research focused on diabetes and its complications.

About Joslin Diabetes Center

Joslin Diabetes Center is the world's preeminent diabetes research and clinical care organization. Joslin is dedicated to ensuring that people with diabetes live long, healthy lives and offers real hope and progress toward diabetes prevention and a cure. Founded in 1898 by Elliott P. Joslin, M.D., Joslin is an independent, nonprofit institution affiliated with Harvard Medical School. For more information please visit

About AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca is a global, innovation-driven biopharmaceutical business with a primary focus on the discovery, development and commercialisation of prescription medicines. As a leader in gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, neuroscience, respiratory and inflammation, oncology and infectious disease medicines, AstraZeneca generated global revenues of US $32.8 billion in 2009. For more information please visit:


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