Adult Stem Cell Study Finds Success in Treating Diabetes

Bioethics   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   Jan 11, 2012   |   12:22PM   |   Washington, DC

More great news in the adult stem cell field. Researchers from the University of Illinois have reported they have improved insulin production in people with type 1 diabetes.

It is thought that type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease meaning that something causes the patient’s white blood cells to attack the pancreas cells that produce insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. These researchers took the patient’s blood and circulated it with cord blood stem cells that reprogrammed the patient’s white blood cells, called lymphocytes. The blood was reintroduced to the patient and insulin production increased enough to be able to reduce the amount of insulin the patient needed to take in order to regulate their blood sugar levels. They call this technique the “Stem Cell Educator.” From the press release:

Type 1 diabetes is caused by the body’s own immune system attacking its pancreatic islet beta cells and requires daily injections of insulin to regulate the patient’s blood glucose levels. A new method described in BioMed Central’s open access journal BMC Medicine uses stem cells from cord blood to re-educate a diabetic’s own T cells and consequently restart pancreatic function reducing the need for insulin.

Stem Cell Educator therapy slowly passes lymphocytes separated from a patient’s blood over immobilized cord blood stem cells (CBSC) from healthy donors. After two to three hours in the device the re-educated lymphocytes are returned to the patient. The progress of the patients was checked at 4, 12, 24 and 40 weeks after therapy.

C-peptide is a protein fragment made as a by-product of insulin manufacture and can be used to determine how well beta cells are working. By 12 weeks after treatment all the patients who received the therapy had improved levels of C –peptide. This continued to improve at 24 weeks and was maintained to the end of the study. This meant that the daily dose of insulin required to maintain their blood glucose levels could be reduced. In accordance with these results the glycated hemoglobin (HbA1C) indicator of long term glucose control also dropped for people receiving the treatment, but not the control group.

A another adult stem cell success story is about a young boy with epidermolysis bullosa or EB. (Hat tip to Don Margolis.) EB is a painful and debilitating skin disorder where the skin blisters and tears at the slightest touch. EB is especially interesting to me because I have friends who have two sons with this condition. A year ago, Charlie Knuth received an adult stem cell bone marrow transplant and is doing so well that his parents are adopting another child with EB. From The Post Crescent:

The lesions that once blanketed Charlie’s small frame have largely receded. Just a few patches of fragile skin remain, and those are carefully wrapped with bandages that once entombed most of Charlie’s body….

Charlie’s remarkable progress has prompted the Knuths to adopt another child who suffers from the same severe form of EB that has shaped Charlie’s life. Trisha Knuth will travel to Washington next week to meet 6-year-old Seth.

“(Seth) is in a group home and he has never had a family,” Trisha Knuth said. “He’s in pretty bad shape.”

She said the outpouring of community support her family received during Charlie’s journey has prepared the family as they enter a new chapter with Seth.

Good luck to the Knuths and Seth! We wish them all the best. Note: Rebecca Taylor is a clinical laboratory specialist in molecular biology, and a practicing pro-life Catholic who writes at the bioethics blog Mary Meets Dolly. She has been writing and speaking about Catholicism and biotechnology for five years and has been interviewed on EWTN radio on topics from stem cell research and cloning to voting pro-life. Taylor has a B.S. in Biochemistry from University of San Francisco with a national certification in clinical Molecular Biology MB (ASCP).