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Stem cells to treat diabetes, heart diseases?

Melbourne: In what may pave the way for better treatments for diabetes and heart diseases, scientists claim to have developed the first adult-induced pluripotent "stem cell lines" using skin biopsies from patients suffering from rare genetic disease Friedreich Ataxia (FA).

The study was conducted by the University of Melbourne and Monash Institute of Medical Research and is published in the `Stem Cell Reviews and Reports` journal.

It is the first time adult pluripotent stem cells, known as iPS cells have been developed for a specific disease in Australia, allowing for the development of new treatments for FA and related conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, say the scientists.

Induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells result from the reprogramming of adult cells, such as skin cells, and are similar to embryonic stem cells in that they have the potential to generate any cell type of the body.

Dr Alice Pbay and Dr Mirella Dottori, co leaders of the study from University of Melbourne, characterised and directed the Friedreich Ataxia iPS cells to become specific cell types, including heart cells and nerves, which are normally not functioning well in the disease.

"By focusing on the heart and nerve cell types we hope to be able to develop treatments to improve heart function and the loss of movement experienced by patients with FA which affects one in 30,000 people globally," Pbay said.

Co-scientist Dr Paul Verma of the Monash Institute of Medical Research said this research could be applied to other diseases.

"Due to the number of symptoms experienced by people with FA, including diabetes and heart disease, this resource could be applied to developing treatment for those conditions and helping even more people," he said.

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