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Novel Stem Cell Treatment May Hold Promise for Type 1 Diabetes
Date:1/11/2012

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Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease, occurs when the body's immune system cells mistakenly attack the insulin-producing (beta) cells in the pancreas. Because their beta cells don't produce enough or any insulin, people with type 1 diabetes have to replace the lost insulin through injections to survive.

Stopping that autoimmune attack appears to be crucial to any treatment that hopes to cure or reverse type 1 diabetes.

Zhao's team developed a completely new approach. They take blood from a patient and separate out the immune system cells (lymphocytes). They briefly expose those cells to stem cells from umbilical cord blood from an unrelated infant and return the lymphocytes alone to the patient's body. The researchers have dubbed this "Stem Cell Educator Therapy," because while exposed to the stem cells, the lymphocytes seem to relearn how they should behave.

The study participants, who were 15 to 41 years old, had had type 1 diabetes for an average of nine years. Six had some residual beta cell function and six did not. Both groups were given stem cell educator therapy. The other three people served as the control group.

The researchers measured C-peptide, a protein fragment that's a byproduct of insulin production, and found that the educator therapy group had improved levels of C-peptide at 12 weeks. These levels continued to improve until 24 weeks, and remained stable through the follow-up at 40 weeks. There were no changes in C-peptide in the control group.

The average daily dose of insulin dropped almost 39 percent after 12 weeks for the group with some beta cell function and 25 percent in those with no beta cell function, suggesting that the group with no beta cell function now produced insulin.

"That means if you stop the autoimmune reaction, you may see beta cell regeneration, or there might be other precursor cells in the pancreas. If these data are confirmed, this is a very provocative and remarkable finding
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