Stem Cell Research and Type 1 Diabetes
A recently published study in the journal Nature Biotechnology gives encouragement to those who are awaiting stem cell transplants as a possible cure for Type 1 diabetes.
Scientists have found a faster way to grow stem cells into insulin-producing cells. What previously took four months to grow to maturity now takes only six weeks. This raises hope that stem cell therapy can someday be a practical treatment for diabetes, with a nearly unlimited supply of insulin-producing cells available.
There are currently some 4,500 different clinical trials underway in the United States, in an effort to prove the efficacy of stem cell transplants in treatment of a variety of diseases, including diabetes. Initial findings appear to show stem cell transplantation as a safe therapy. What remains to be proved is whether it is an effective therapy.
Stem cells are immature cells that have the ability to develop into 200 different types of cells that appear in many different parts of the body. They are sourced from umbilical cord blood or bone marrow. The theory behind using stem cells as regenerative treatments in the body holds that these cells, when implanted or allowed to migrate to areas of injury transform themselves into new tissue to replace damaged tissue.
Stem cells can mature and multiply in infinite numbers. Most research prepares the cells outside of the body, where they are kept and nourished under artificial conditions, and guided to maturity as the cells required for specific treatments. These cells can then be introduced into the body and take up residence where they can do the most good.
Stem cell research has produced treatment for a number of blood disorders, blood cancers, tumors, immune disorders and metabolic disorders. That being said, this research is still very new, and treatments for disease are still few and far between. There is great hope, however, that successful stem cell treatments are not far away for a variety of ailments, including diabetes, blindness, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, liver cirrhosis, and spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries.
Stem Cells and Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is characterized by the autoimmune destruction of beta cells in the pancreas. Beta cells are insulin producing cells, and their absence means that insulin must be injected one or more times each day to maintain stable blood glucose levels.
Stem cells would be transplanted into a host. After entering the body, they would, in theory, replace these beta cells and begin producing insulin in amounts that would be sufficient to stabilize blood sugar levels.
Not an Imminent Cure
However promising an announcement like this one might appear, we are still a very long way from having this therapy available to us as a real treatment. There are many years of research ahead to produce a stable and consistent outcome, and then several years of trials on human subjects before the product becomes marketable.
Scientists will continue to push hard for what they see as a truly beneficial solution for people suffering a myriad of diseases, but these patients will have to be just that - patient - before they can benefit from this science.