Stem cell treatment may end Insulin use for type 1 diabetes

April 14, 2009

(Chattahbox) — Diabetes is an unwelcome guest in anyone’s life, but science may be on the brink of a permanent cure.

A group of volunteers at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, all of whom had been diagnosed with type-1 diabetes, underwent a stem-cell transplant procedure and were able to live insulin-free for more than three years, while maintaining the critical factors of good glycemic and C-Peptide levels, according to a report from JAMA Report.

Clinical evidence, presented to the National Press Club in Washington D.C. by the head of the trial, Dr. Richard K. Burt, suggests there is an inverse connection between cells in the pancreas that produce insulin and cause the more severe problems linked to type-1 diabetes (the so-called “Diabetes Mellitus”,) and the levels of C-Peptides in the blood. And correctly exploited, this link could change lives.

An earlier study concluded that a stem cell transplant procedure called ‘HSCT,’ carried out in 15 patients who had just been diagnosed with type-1 DM enabled them to live entirely free of insulin for around 19 months. “However, it was suggested this independence was a prolonged honeymoon period due to diet and exercise changes associated with the patients being closely monitored after the transplant,” the authors are at pains to point out. Whether this new-found liberty was due to an improvement in beta-cell preservation was not yet clear to the team.

The HSCT procedure removes a patient’s own stem-cells, treats them, then returns them by a simple injection. Of the 23 patients, aged between 13 and 31 who took part in Dr. Burt’s study, twenty remained entirely insulin free for an average of 31-months One volunteer went more than 4-years with no insulin use whatsoever, four were insulin-free for at least three years, three patients for two years or more, and four more for at least one year. Just eight of the group needed to resume insulin use, but all at far lower doses. Most also enjoyed strong glycemic control.

In the long-term insulin-free group, average C-Peptide levels went up dramatically after two years, while the more short-term insulin-free volunteers experienced a rise of about half that much. Two of the short-term patients needed to resume insulin use, but were able to stop again after treatment with the anti-hyperglycemic drug, ‘Sitagliptin.’

The news, however, was not uniformly good – Two volunteers developed pneumonia, three suffered endocrine dysfunction, and nine experienced some level of sperm deficiency. There were no deaths or serious illness.

Dr. Hurt is understandably pleased with the findings. “HSCT was able to induce significant increases of C-Peptide levels associated with the absence of insulin doses in patients with type-1 DM,” he writes in the study. “At the present time, HSCT is the only treatment capable of reversing type-1 DM in humans.” And for a Scientist, that’s positively gushing. But Dr. Hurt makes it clear that the world’s diabetics should not now expect an immediate cure; “Randomized trials and further studies are needed to confirm the role of the treatment in changing the history of type-1 DM.” he explains in the report’s conclusion.

Which, in plain English means, don’t hold your breath just yet.


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