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Stem cell 'cure' for type 1 diabetes

Thurs April 16th, 2009

Stem cell transplantation may allow people with type 1 diabetes to become insulin free, new research shows.

Dr Richard Burt of Northwestern, Chicago, USA, looked into haematopoietic stem cell transplantation using the patient's own cells, which had been removed and specially modified before being replaced.

This process improved the function of beta cells - a type of cell in the pancreas that secretes insulin. Following transplant, most of the 23 patients aged 13 to 31 years were independent of insulin, several for more than three years.

Results appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Dr Burt and colleagues say that these patients showed good glycaemic control, and also increased C-peptide levels, an indirect measure of beta cell function.

Similar results has been seen before in a study of 15 patients, but "it was suggested that subsequent insulin independence was a prolonged honeymoon period due to dietary and exercise changes associated with close post-transplant medical observation," the authors write.

However, the new study demonstrates that the benefits were due to an improvement in beta cell function.

"In conclusion, autologous nonmyeloablative haematopoietic stem cell transplantation was able to induce prolonged and significant increases of C-peptide levels associated with absence of or reduction of daily insulin doses in a small group of patients with type 1 diabetes mellitus," the researchers write.

"At the present time, this remains the only treatment capable of reversing type 1 diabetes mellitus in humans."

But they warn that further careful studies are necessary "to confirm the role of this treatment in changing the natural history of type 1 diabetes mellitus".

Couri, C. E. B. et al. C-Peptide Levels and Insulin Independence Following Autologous Nonmyeloablative Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation in Newly Diagnosed Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus. The Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 301, April 15, 2009, pp. 1573-79.

Tags: Diabetes | Infancy to Adolescence | North America

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