Stem Cells May Provide Solution to Type 1 Diabetes
Of the two types of diabetes, Type 1 is usually considered the more problematic. Type 2 diabetes is often the result of weight gain, whereas Type 1 is often something children are born with. As a result, many diabetes research groups have focused on finding a way to help people deal with Type 1 diabetes. One method, which has shown very positive results so far, involves the use of stem cells to eliminate the issue altogether.
Type 1 diabetes results from a faulty immune system, which attempts to destroy the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. The mutation creates a problem that is similar to many immune system diseases. Until several years ago, there had been no real solution proposed to the problem. However, a team has, using the results of similar studies, conducted an experiment that has provided generally positive results.
To be precise, the team conducted the experiment, known as autologous nonmyeloablative hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, with 15 teenagers. They gave the test subjects a special drug that promoted the production of stem cells. These were extracted and stored. Then, the teenagers were given much stronger medication to destroy their immune systems. The stem cells were then injected back into their bodies, creating a new immune system that does not attack the pancreas.
So far, the average length of time the teenagers have been off insulin injections is 1.5 years. One patient has even been off insulin for 3.5 years. Despite this apparent success, the test subjects must be observed for several more years to watch for potential long-term complications or side effects. The known short-term side effects include hair loss, nausea, and low white blood cell count. However, these issues typically only last for a few weeks. As of yet, none of the test subjects have shown evidence of the medical problems that plagued previous groups, such as pneumonia and organ damage.
One of the main concerns at this point is that the test subjects with develop some of the other problems associated with drugs that weaken the immune system, particularly infertility and tumors. As of now, though, it seems as though this will not be a problem, as one of the teenagers gave birth to a child less than two years after the experimental procedure.
The study was presented at an annual meeting hosted by the American Diabetes Association in early June. Other studies presented at the forum involved such things as artificial pancreases and various drugs that both help and harm those with diabetes. The experimental treatment will also appear in Diabetes Care.
While the transplantation is not ready for regular treatment of Type 1 diabetes, the positive results have provided diabetes researchers with a place to begin further study. Based on further observations of their test subjects, the research team may alter their treatment to prevent any negative side effects in the future. Until then, the procedure will remain strictly experimental; although, given its success, stem cell research for diabetes is likely to continue for many years to come.
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