Joint research will focus initially on using induced pluripotent stem cells to create insulin-producing cells

BOSTON – December 7, 2010 – Joslin Diabetes Center and AstraZeneca 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) 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, 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.” 

About AstraZeneca

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