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Stem Cells Buy Freedom From Insulin for Type 1 Diabetics
Date:4/14/2009

In small study, most of patients got temporary reprieve from daily injections

TUESDAY, April 14 (HealthDay News) -- A particular type of stem cell transplantation using the patient's own cells led to short-term freedom from insulin injections in 20 of 23 patients newly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes participating in an experimental protocol in Brazil.

One patient even managed to go four years without needing outside sources of insulin, although the average was 31 months, said the authors of a report in the April 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, a themed issue on diabetes.

The patients also kept their blood sugar under control, which is key to preventing complications from diabetes. And, the authors stated, increased C-peptide levels indicated that the pancreas' beta cells were alive and well.

"We were trying to preserve islet beta cell mass, that is, the cells that produce insulin, by stopping the immune system attack on these cells," said senior study author Dr. Richard Burt, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. "Why new onset? Because we wanted to make sure there were still some islets there. We don't believe stem cells form islet cells, but if the islet cells are still there, there might be regeneration if we stop the attack soon enough."

The technique may not prove effective in patients with longstanding disease, warned Weimin He, an assistant professor at the Center for Environmental and Genetic Medicine at Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute of Biosciences and Technology.

Beta cells secrete insulin, the hormone which is critical in moving and storing blood sugar and, thus, maintaining stable blood-sugar levels. In type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disorder, the patient's body attacks its own beta cells.

Restoring the body's innate ability to produce insulin has been the holy grail of diabetes research. Some
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