Stem cells are slowly branching out to be used for a plethora of different types of diseases. From neurological conditions to genetic disorders, with today’s advances, there’s a high chance that stem cells can provide some form of relief. Despite the advances in stem cell research, there are still a lot of moral obligations that affect the funding of such research. Fortunately, there is still a lot of research that has already been done to tackle diseases like diabetes, however, we still have a long way to go.
For diseases with no known cure, stem cells have become one of the first options for real treatment. Despite the barrier stem cells face in society and the medical world, treatments are moving underway to find an actual cure to type 1 diabetes.
What Is Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are two totally different types of conditions that fall under the umbrella of diseases that result in too much sugar in the blood. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body either builds a resistance to insulin or the pancreas can’t produce enough. While there is currently no cure, type 2 diabetes can usually be treated by incorporating a healthy diet and exercise.
Unfortunately, type 1 diabetes is very different. Type 1 diabetes is often when the body’s immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. This type is usually genetic with no known cause. Symptoms include frequent urination, extreme hunger, unintended weight loss, mood changes, fatigue, blurred vision, and increased thirst.
While eating healthy and maintaining regular exercise can help with type 1 diabetes, there are still additional treatment recommendations that patients have to follow. Patients have to take insulin, frequently check their blood sugar, and count carbohydrates, fat, and protein as they eat. The goal of treatment is to keep blood sugar levels to as much of a normal number as possible to prevent symptoms and complications. Anyone diagnosed with type 1 diabetes will have to take insulin and vigilantly maintain blood sugar levels for the rest of their life.
Where Stem Cells Come In
A pancreas transplant has strongly been considered by researchers as one way to treat type 1 diabetes, however, there are simply not enough organ donors in the world. One source claims that there are roughly 10,000 donors a year, and this would only assist a small segment of the almost 2 million people that may be suffering from type 1 diabetes every year. The reason for very few pancreas transplants is pretty clear: you can’t live without one. Unlike kidneys, we only have one pancreas and we need it, which is why stem cells are becoming more and more relevant.
Fortunately, there have been a few successful clinical trials reported while on the road to curing type 1 diabetes. One of the hallmarks of these trials is to use the patient’s own stem cells to reduce the risk of the body rejecting the treatment. The risk of rejection comes from how the stem cells are used in the cases to treat diabetes.
Figuring Out How To Repair The Pancreas
As many of us know, with type 1 diabetes, the source cause is the immune system and the pancreas. Researchers have begun using stem cells to repair or change how these parts of the body interact. In some cases, patients could have their pancreas rebuilt in sections so as to fix the underlying cause. In addition, patients wouldn’t have to rely on an organ donor, especially given their limited availability. However, getting a new organ, even in this way, is the reason why researchers and doctors were concerned about rejection in the first place.
Due to the nature of type 1 diabetes, the immune system may eventually attack the stem cells, thus forcing individuals to start the process all over again. Treatments have to consider how to prevent the immune system from targeting the new cells permanently, but this often ends in immune suppressants. While immune suppressants force the immune system to take a back seat, the body is more susceptible to illness and infection, so the idea is hardly foolproof.
Join our Stem Cell Discussion & Information Facebook Group today!
Clinical Trials: Stem Cells and Type 1 Diabetes
The University of Florida Health may have found a way around the body’s autoimmune responses, which is when the immune system attacks the host body. These researchers have found a way to use preserved cord cells as a long-treatment option for type 1 diabetes. The cells are called thymic regulatory T cells or Tregs for short, and they are a type of white blood cell that prevents autoimmune responses. Research on Treg cells is helping in other ways, too. Researchers are discovering not only how to replenish low Treg count if the disease is caught early enough in life, but also learning how to replace bad Treg cells with good ones, and create new treatments if the need for insulin returns.
More Research on Treg Cells
The Institute of Metabolism and Endocrinology in China has two ongoing studies for Treg cells. Dr. Yong Zhao took a different approach in 2011 with a device called the Stem Cell Educator or SCE. The SCE circulates a patient’s blood in a closed loop before separating mononuclear cells from whole blood before co-culturing them with adherent cord blood stem cells. This re-educates the cells and stops the autoimmune response. One of the highlights of this device is that the patient is not introduced to any new stem cells. In prior trials, the educator eliminated any need for prior matching. The entire treatment only takes 8 to 10 hours and is currently in trial in China.
There are more trials on the cusp of greatness that still need some work. One large study out of Australia includes children between the ages of 1 and 12. The study observes if re-infusion of their own cord blood or their own stem cells helps prevent type 1 diabetes in those who have an advanced risk.
Path To A Cure
There are many clinical trials for curing type 1 diabetes underway and many more to come. A disease like this with no true cure is one of the main drives for more stem cell research in the first place, so looking more heavily into a disease impacting so many people is a no-brainer. As technology improves and more research is conducted, there is hope that we’ll find new ways to treat type 1 diabetes and similar diseases. Perhaps even discovering a cure for good. Right now, the current clinical trials and treatment options have paved a good path for better things to be built on.
Learn More About Stem Cell Therapy
Download our FREE Stem Cell Report
Click below to download our free educational report, Stem Cell 101!