This site is intended for health professionals only

Maternal cells generate insulin

Naturally transferred cells passing from mother to child could help infants suffering from diabetes prepare insulin, British scientists have found.

Published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, the study originally investigated the phenomenon of microchimerism, where a living being accepts cells from a genetically different source, when they made the discovery.

Instead of finding that maternal cells hindered sufferers of diabetes, they found that some maternal cells lodged in the pancreas began producing insulin, the hormone whose deficiency causes the condition.

"Could diabetes result because the child lost tolerance to those cells because they are genetically half foreign? Our research appears to disprove this," said professor Edwin Gale from the University of Bristol. "It is possible that the maternal cells may even be helping to regenerate damaged tissue in the pancreas."

The scientists found that roughly 20% of children suffering from type 1 diabetes, an immune-related disorder, had higher-than-average maternal DNA in their circulation. By examining the make up of these maternal stem cells they hope to learn new information about the generation of insulin-producing beta cells.