Stem cell research: New, major EU research grant focused on stem cell-based treatment of diabetes

A grant of 6 million euros for the HumEn project brings together leading European stem cell-research groups and industrial partners in a coordinated and collaborative effort aimed at developing glucose-responsive, insulin-producing beta cells for future cell-replacement therapy in diabetes. The project will contribute significantly to better treatment and quality of life for the increasing population of diabetics. One of nine HumEn project partners is the Institute of Diabetes and Regeneration Research at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, a member of the DZD.

Insulin deficiency, absolute or relative, underlies all forms of diabetes and currently affects 366 million people worldwide. Currently, the only way to replace lost or dysfunctional beta cells is via transplantation of a whole pancreas or islets of Langerhans. Unfortunately, today only a selected few are offered this treatment due to lack of donors. The aim of HumEn is to develop functional, insulin-producing beta cells from pluripotent stem cells in the laboratory.

The scientific objective of HumEn (Upscaling human insulin-producing beta cell production by efficient differentiation and expansion of endoderm progenitors) is to understand the complexity of controlled expansion of beta cell progenitors and their differentiation into mature beta cells. The results of the project will not only provide answers to fundamental questions, but also deliver new concepts and knowledge of general importance for coordination of cell cycle progression and regulation of cell fate specification in stem cells/progenitors. In the end, scientists aim to be able to develop sufficient numbers of functional glucose-responsive, insulin-producing beta cells from pluripotent stem cells in the laboratory for future clinical needs.

All partners, six academic and three industrial – including the Institute of Diabetes and Regeneration Research at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, Partner of the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD), headed by Professor Heiko Lickert, contribute state-of-the art expertise in complementary research areas including beta cell development and physiology, beta cell transplantation, human pluripotent stem cell biology, polymer chemistry, niche engineering, and epigenetics.

Project leader Professor Henrik Semb of the Danish Stem Cell Center (DanStem), University of Copenhagen says “With this grant, we are able to bring together some of the best stem cell research groups in Europe. I believe that HumEn’s unique constellation of research competences, the interdisciplinarity, and the very coordinated and collaborative approach that our project is based on, will enable us to reach the goal of developing functional, glucose-responsive, insulin-producing beta cells, and thus bring the new therapy closer to the patients.”

The European Commission’s HEALTH research programme supports seven stem cell research projects. Common for these projects is the focus on understanding the underlying mechanism of the self-renewing capacity of stem cells and their differentiation into mature functional cell types suitable for various cell-based therapeutic applications. HumEn has already established closer, collaborative relations to three of the other projects (PluriMes, focused on directing pluripotent stem cells to become bone and muscle forming cells; Neurostemcellrepair, aimed at taking human stem cells toward cell replacement therapy for neurological disorders; ThymiStem, developing stem cell approaches to boosting the immune system). The four consortia will collaborate and coordinate training and outreach activities, sharing relevant basic knowledge and benefit from interdisciplinary and intersectorial synergies across the projects.


Further Information

The HumEn project is supported through the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° HEALTH-F4-2013-602889

HumEn project partners: DanStem, University of Copenhagen; IDR, Helmholtz Zentrum München; University of Edinburgh; INSERM, Paris; Uppsala University; Max-Planck-Institut for Heart and Lung Research; CYTOO SA; MATERIOMICS; MILTENYI