(dailyRx News) Type 2 diabetes can often be controlled by simply eating healthy and exercising. Type 1 diabetes is a different story. Many people live their whole lives with the disease. But can type 1 diabetes be beaten?
Stem cell transplants may one day be used to reverse type 1 diabetes, according to recent research on mice.
This study, which was conducted by Timothy Kieffer, PhD, of the University of British Columbia, and scientists from BetaLogics, a division of Janssen Research & Development, LLC, is the first to show that stem cells from humans can be transplanted in mice to restore insulin production and reverse diabetes.
In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Without insulin, blood sugar levels rise, putting people at risk of dangerous complications.
In their study, the researchers were able to create a "feedback loop" between insulin production and blood sugar levels. That is, the pancreas would produce more or less insulin depending on blood sugar levels.
Once the stem cell transplant took place, the researchers slowly lowered insulin treatment in mice, a process similar to what would happen after a stem cell transplant in humans.
After three or four months, the mice were able to keep normal blood sugar levels, even while being fed large amounts of sugar.
When the transplant cells were taken out of the mice months later, they looked like the natural cells that produce insulin.
"We are very excited by these findings," says Dr. Kieffer, "but additional research is needed before this approach can be tested clinically in humans."
According to Dr. Kieffer, future research should try to tackle the problem of stem cell rejection. When a stem cells are transplanted, there is a risk that the immune system will see the cells as invaders and try to fight them off.
"The studies were performed in diabetic mice that lacked a properly functioning immune system that would otherwise have rejected the cells. We now need to identify a suitable way of protecting the cells from immune attack so that the transplant can ultimately be performed in the absence of any immunosuppression," he said.
The current study was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Stem Cell Network of Canada, Stem Cell Technologies Vancouver, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.
The results are published in the journal Diabetes.