For Type I Diabetes, Adult Stem Cells Outperform Embryonic

Bioethics   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   Jul 3, 2012   |   10:38AM   |   Washington, DC

This is so typical of the media. The Vancouver Sun is reporting that, for the first time EVER, Type I diabetes in MICE has been reversed…with embryonic stem cells that is:

VANCOUVER — For the first time ever, University of B.C. scientists have used human embryonic stem cell transplants to reverse Type 1 diabetes in mice with the disease, giving hope to about 300 million people around the world who suffer from the chronic disease.

A 13-member team, whose milestone work is published in the journal Diabetes, shows that after transplantation, the stem cells matured into insulin-secreting, pancreatic beta-cells. The cells automatically sensed blood sugar levels to release the right amount of insulin and a few dozen diabetic mice were gradually weaned off insulin given to them over a period of months.

Insulin is produced by beta-cells to to help the body absorb sugar and use it for energy.

“Essentially, the mice were cured of their diabetes by placing the body back in charge of regulated insulin production as it is in healthy, non-diabetics,” said lead author Timothy Kieffer.

Sounds fantastic right? Embryonic stem cells cured Type I, also called Juvenile, diabetes in mice. Hooray!

Except five years ago the Journal of the American Medical Association reported on a study where much the same was accomplished in HUMANS using a different approach and the the patient’s own adult stem cells. This small Brazilian trial did not get much press in the United States, but U.S. Representative Dr. Dave Weldon tried to get the word out with this press releaseat the time:

WASHINGTON, April 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — In yet another advance in adult stem cell therapy, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) today released a study in which 14 of 15 Juvenile Diabetes patients demonstrated significant improvement as a result of an adult stem cell treatment. According to U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, M.D. (R-FL), the study is significant in that it’s the first attempt at using stem cells of any kind to reverse the effects of Type I diabetes in humans.

“This is a very promising study for those who are suffering from Juvenile Diabetes,” said Weldon, a Florida physician, who noted that while only a preliminary study, the treatment appears to be quite promising since 14 of the patients remain insulin-free after the adult stem cell transplant using their own adult stem cells. One patient has now gone 34 months without insulin therapy.

“It’s very important that the public be told what this is: an adult stem cell success, not the much touted embryo stem cell research. Also, one of the first things I noticed was that this research was done by Americans overseas. Why? Because much of the American biomedical research community has placed an irrational reliance on embryo stem cell research above all others. Adult stem cell science in America is being crowded out and in some cases ignored. This bias is now denying American patients access to therapies that are much more promising. We need to focus on human treatments for today, not those with false hope for tomorrow.”

But the embryonic stem cells in mice HAVE to be better right? Because the media says they are the BEST right?

Well let’s see. If you read more carefully, the Vancouver Sun article reveals some interesting facts: 1. some mice were found to have cartilage and bone growing where the embryonic stem cells (ESCs) were injected and 2. the mice were designed to be unable to reject the ESCs that naturally come from another organism. Both are major obstacles to human trials:

Although the research showed that stem cells may one day provide a cure for diabetes, it also revealed hurdles to overcome before agencies like the Food and Drug Administration in the United States or Health Canada can approve the therapy.

For example, some mice developed bone or cartilage in areas where the cells were inserted, an unacceptable side-effect that future experiments must resolve.

Another obstacle is figuring out how to make the therapy work for humans so they don’t reject the cells. Mice used in the study were bred to be immuno-compromised so they wouldn’t reject the human cells as foreign invaders.

So once again, likely issues with rejection and strange tissue formation. At least the article mentioned it. But where was the mention of the above study in HUMANS with a patient’s own adult stem cells, meaning no rejection and no weird tissue formation? Maybe the reporter didn’t know about it. My question then is: why didn’t she?



Well, I guess we have learned we cannot expect balanced reporting when it comes to stem cells. That would allow for the masses to actually be educated on the issue and that would be bad. (Because then we might ask our favorite charity, like the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, why they gave $2 million to adult stem cell research and $4.9 million to embryonic stem cell research in the same year.)

And with accurate reporting you wouldn’t end up with such great bigoted comments like this one:

All those against stem cell research should be banned from getting any treatment derived from it. But we all know they will be first in line. Once again, religion holding back progress.