Can Stem Cells Cure Type 1 Diabetes?

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Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease because the body’s own cells attack the cells of the pancreas, particularly the cells which are responsible for insulin production. Insulin is a hormone that regulates the entrance of glucose into cells for its use. When insulin is lacking in the circulation, blood sugar levels rise which can have serious health implications. Most type 1 diabetic patients need daily insulin shots to regulate their blood sugar levels.

According to the CDC, type 1 diabetes is diagnosed in approximately 13,000 children every year. Many scientists are thus, continuously focusing their researches on finding a cure for such a condition. One of the theories they’ve been working on is the effect of stem cells cure type 1 diabetes.


In 2009, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study on stem cells and type 1 diabetes. The treatment procedure that the researchers used is called autologous nonmyeloablative hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) wherein stem cells from diabetic patients were harvested. After the stem cell harvest, patients then underwent radiation to kill the cells of the immune system. The harvested stem cells were then transplanted back to each patient.

Results from the research showed that one-half of the 23 participants newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes required no insulin injections for roughly one year. They also showed significant improvements in the production of insulin. Four of the participants in the study did not require insulin injection for three years, while one was lucky enough not to require insulin shots for more than four years.

The 23 participants of the study, with ages ranging from 13 to 31, were the first to gain stem cell therapy for their Type 1 diabetes. The research however has some side effects. Two of the patients developed pneumonia, while nine had developed low sperm count due to their exposure to toxic drugs.

Continuing Studies

One of the co-authors of the research study, Dr. Richard Burt of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said that while the side effects of the stem cell treatment on type 1 diabetes patients are quite serious, the encouraging sign is that the methodology is less toxic compared to other immune-system therapies being provided to cancer patients.

The scientists also added that the stem cell treatment option may not work for individuals who have diabetes for such a long time and are no longer capable of producing pancreatic beta cells. They further stressed that the next step in the research to find out if indeed stem cells cure type 1 diabetes is to do a large and random trial on patients newly diagnosed with diabetes type 1 whose pancreas can still produce insulin.



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