Diabetes Research at NYSCF

About Diabetes  Diabetes News   Publications  FAQs

At NYSCF, we are dedicated to uncovering diabetes causes and finding a cure for the disease, not just treatments for its symptoms. We are approach this goal in several ways:

  1. At the NYSCF Research Institute, we are using our own, powerful robotic system for creating stem cells. Our NYSCF Global Stem Cell Array® can rapidly and reproducibly create stem cells from skin or blood, and then reprogram these cells into pancreatic beta cells — the insulin-producing cells affected in diabetes.
  2. We then study how cells generated from type 1 and type 2 diabetes patients behave, identifying cellular mechanisms that may drive the disease, testing drugs on the cells, and developing strategies to engineer healthy cells for replacement therapies.
  3. Lastly, we are engineering beta cells that are invisible to the immune system. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, and even if we can develop new beta cells to replace the damaged cells, we need a way to make sure the immune system will not attack them. At NYSCF, we are genetically engineering beta cells that can camouflage themselves from the immune system, keeping them safe from destruction.

About Diabetes 

Diabetes Definition

Diabetes is a group of diseases characterized by impaired regulation of blood sugar levels by insulin. Insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, helps the body extract sugar from our bloodstream and transfer it into our cells, where it is used for energy.

Almost 26 million people have diabetes in the United States alone, and this number continues to grow. There are many different forms of diabetes (including neonatal diabetes and gestational diabetes), but you may have heard of the two major types:

Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetics do not produce insulin because their immune system erroneously attacks the cells that produce it.

Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetics exhibit insulin resistance or do not produce enough insulin to maintain regular blood sugar levels.

Diabetes Symptoms

Insulin helps the body absorb glucose from the bloodstream, and when it is absent, blood sugar levels can become dangerously high, affecting virtually all tissues in the body and causing health problems such as the following:

  • feeling tired all day
  • excessive thirst
  • blurred vision
  • frequent urination
  • unexplained weight loss
  • increased appetite
  • diabetic coma

Diabetes Prevention

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that has no reliable prevention strategies at this time. Researchers are currently exploring whether genetics can increase one’s risk for developing type 1 diabetes, but the disease cannot be prevented.

Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be prevented by maintaining a healthy diet, losing weight, and exercising, although genetics play a significant role as well.

Diabetes Treatment

The most common type 1 diabetes treatment is administration of insulin. This can be done through an injection, inhaler, injection port, or through an insulin pump, which delivers insulin continuously throughout the day.

Typical type 2 diabetes treatments and management strategies include weight loss, healthy eating, regular exercise, and in late stages or more severe cases, insulin therapy.

Patients should consult their physician to determine the best treatment course for their symptoms.

Diabetes News


Below are select publications outlining recent advancements in diabetes research from NYSCF scientists.

β-Cell Replacement in Mice Using Human Type 1 Diabetes Nuclear Transfer Embryonic Stem Cells. 
Sui L, Danzl N, Campbell SR, Viola R, Williams D, Xing Y, Wang Y, Phillips N, Poffenberger G, Johannesson B, Oberholzer J, Powers AC, Leibel RL, Chen X, Sykes M, Egli D. Diabetes. 2018. DOI: 10.2337/db17-0120
This study examines the ability of nuclear transfer embryonic stem cells derived from a patient with type 1 diabetes to differentiate into beta cells.

Toward beta cell replacement for diabetes. 
Johannesson B, Sui L, Freytes DO, Creusot RJ, Egli D. The EMBO Journal. 2015. DOI: 10.15252/embj.201490685
In this article, NYSCF researchers discuss the promise of cell replacement therapies for treating diabetes.

Human oocytes reprogram adult somatic nuclei to diploid pluripotent stem cells.
Yamada M, Johannesson B, Sagi I, Burnett LC, Kort DH, Prosser RW, Paull D, Nestor MW, Freeby M, Greenberg E, Goland RS, Leibel RL, Solomon SL, Benvenisty N, Sauer MV, Egli D. Nature. 2014. DOI: 10.1038/nature13287.
This paper outlines how NYSCF scientists created stem cells from diabetic patients through a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer. This was the first time this was achieved using cells from adult individuals.

Beta cell dysfunction due to increased ER stress in a stem cell model of Wolfram syndrome.
Linshan Shang, Haiqing Hua, Kylie Foo, Hector Martinez, Kazuhisa Watanabe, Matthew Zimmer, David J Kahler, Matthew Freeby, Wendy Chung, Charles LeDuc, Robin Goland, Rudolph L. Leibel and Dieter Egli. Diabetes. 2014. DOI: 10.2337/db13-0717
In this study, scientists NYSCF and Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) used stem cells created from the skin of patients with a rare form of diabetes—Wolfram syndrome—to elucidate an important biochemical pathway for beta-cell failure in diabetes.

Diabetes FAQs

What is a chronic disease?

According to the Center for Disease Control, a chronic disease is a condition that lasts for 1 year or longer, requires ongoing medical attention, and limits activities of daily living. Diabetes is classified as a chronic disease. Other examples include lupus, heart disease, epilepsy, and arthritis.

What leads to diabetes?

Diabetes results from dysfunction in the production and sensing of insulin, a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body erroneously attacks insulin. Type 2 diabetes is caused by an inability to produce enough insulin, or the development of insulin resistance.

What is insulin used for?

Insulin helps the body absorb glucose from the bloodstream. When you eat food, sugars from that food are deposited into your bloodstream. Insulin allow for these sugars to leave the bloodstream and enter your cells where they can be used for energy.


Where is insulin produced?

Insulin is produced in the pancreas.

What are beta cells?

Pancreatic beta cells are the cells in the pancreas that produce and release insulin. They are a promising target for drug development and cell replacement therapies, as their depletion is the root of type 1 diabetes.

What are blood sugar levels?

Blood sugar levels are a measure of the amount of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream at a certain time. When we eat, sugar from food is deposited into our bloodstream. Insulin then helps regulate the levels of sugar in our blood. If they get too high, one can develop hyperglycemia—a buildup of sugar in the bloodstream that can lead to severe health problems such as diabetic coma and can affect the eyes, kidneys, nerves, and heart. In patients with diabetes, insulin cannot sufficiently regulate blood sugar levels. Diabetics therefore monitor their blood sugar levels through periodic blood glucose testing.