If the results of experiments on rats by Japanese researchers can be replicated in humans, a cure for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes may be at hand. The trick seems to be using the diabetic’s own stem cells to produce insulin.
According to WebMD, diabetes refers to a number of diseases that affect the body’s ability to produce insulin which in turns helps to turn sugar into energy. People with Type 1 diabetes have had their insulin producing cells in their pancreas destroyed by their own immune system. People with Type 2 diabetes produce insulin, but in insufficient amounts to process glucose. Many diabetics have to take regular injections of insulin and all have to watch their diets. Diabetes can cause blindness and neurological problems that can result in amputation of extremities.
The way the Japanese researchers cured diabetes in rats was to extract neural stem cells from the brain. The tissue is then treated with Wnt3a, a human protein that switched on insulin production, and an antibody that blocks a natural inhibiter of insulin production. The tissue was grown and then placed on thin sheets of collagen that acted as a removal scaffold. In turn the scaffolds with the cells were placed on the rats pancreas.
Within a week the levels of insulin in the diabetic rats matched those of the control group of nondiabetic rats. The levels of glucose, elevated in the diabetic rats, came down to normal. This condition lasted for 19 weeks until the scientists removed the scaffolds, whereupon the diabetes returned to the rats.
Experiments in human diabetics using donor pancreatic cells have proven to have mixed results, mainly because of the problem with rejection. Since the cells used on the diabetic rats were from the rats’ own brain and because they were not genetically manipulated, rejection problems were nonexistent. If the treatment that has proven successful with rats can be duplicated with humans, a cure for diabetes could be at hand.
The procedure would involve extracting the stems cells from the human brain using an endoscope, a procedure that has already been tested successfully. After the cells have been turned into insulin producing cells, they can be injected into the patient’s pancreas.
How long the cure will last and whether repeated treatments would be necessary are questions that await further research with human test subjects. However a cure of diabetes, with the resulting improvement in quality of life for millions of people, may be drawing nigh.
Sources: Diabetic rats cured with their own stem cells, Andy Coghlan, New Scienist, Oct 7, 2011
Diabetes Health Center, WebMD