About Stem Cell Treatment for Diabetes
Traditionally diabetics administer insulin injections in an attempt to replace the function of the pancreas. Studies show there is a new alternative for diabetes treatment by use of stem cells. The use of stem cells can stop the progression of diabetes, and in some cases, eliminate the need for insulin injections.
What is Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes, or juvenile diabetes, occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Without insulin, the body’s cells cannot absorb glucose. This leaves the glucose in the bloodstream. High blood glucose levels can cause organ deterioration, ketoacidosis, coma and even death.
What are Stem Cells?
Stem cells can convert themselves to special cells like insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas. They also have the ability to repair organs and tissues of the body by dividing themselves without limit. They can be extracted from bone marrow, muscle and the brain. These are called adult stem cells. The cells taken from these areas are able to generate replacements. This is a phenomenal step toward treating diseases like diabetes.
The objective of diabetic stem cell treatment is to stop the immune system from attacking the beta cells of the pancreas. It is not possible to reverse diabetes with this method or any other method. The stem cell treatment can only stop the degeneration of the pancreas. Because of this, long-term diabetics will not benefit from this treatment. The best candidates for diabetic stem cell treatment are newly diagnosed patients. These diabetics still have a pancreas that can be saved.
Diabetes Stem Cell Treatment Study
Fifteen diabetic patients with ages ranging from 14 to 31 were part of a stem cell treatment study in Brazil. These patients were given drugs and hormones to move their stem cells from the bone marrow to the bloodstream. Doctors used a device to remove the cells from the bloodstream. After two weeks, the patients received chemotherapy to destroy their current immune system over the course of five days. The patients rested for a day, and then were administered their own stem cells for 12 days. This created a new immune system that would not attack their pancreas.
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Results of Brazil study
The results of this treatment enabled 12 patients to stop taking insulin right away. Over the course of 18 months, two patients have not needed insulin injections. Five patients have been insulin-free for 23 months. One patient received no effect from the treatment. Doctors determined the patient’s diabetes progressed too far. According to Dr. Jay Skyler, with the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, even if insulin shots are still needed, the treatment is a success if it saves beta cells from being destroyed.