By Hilary White

  CHICAGO, June 29, 2007 ( – A new US study offers insights into the way stem cells from umbilical cord blood can be used to successfully treat diabetes. Researchers at the University of Florida College of Medicine studied twenty children aged between two and seven with type 1 diabetes, seven of whom were injected with cord blood cells. The researchers concluded that the study suggests that the cells “jump-start” and correct the patient’s own immune system.

“This is the first attempt at using cord blood as a potential therapy for type 1 diabetes. We hope these cells can either lessen the immune system’s attack on the pancreas or possibly introduce stem cells that can differentiate into insulin-producing cells,” said the lead researcher, Dr. Michael Haller.

  Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system starts destroying insulin-producing cells in the pancreas needed to control blood sugar. It can result in heart disease, blindness, kidney disease and death.

  The children treated with umbilical cord cells needed an average of 35 per cent less insulin over the following six months, compared with those not given stem cell infusions.

  The study was presented yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association in Chicago, where researchers cautioned against an overreaction. They said the treatment was not a cure and that the cause of the immune process in diabetes was still unknown, but Dr. Haller said that his team has reason for “cautious optimism.”

  Another member of the team, Dr. Desmond Schatz, said, “We expect this effect will be transient, but we will be able to use it in other combinations of therapies.”

  Juvenile diabetes is one of the most frequently cited diseases in media reports on the potential for stem cells to cure diseases; but news outlets rarely distinguish between cells taken from embryos or foetuses and the patients’ own bodies. Numerous studies have shown that stem cells taken from the patient’s own body—sometimes called somatic stem cells—as well as umbilical cord cells, produce favourable results for a number of illnesses, while the results from embryonic stem cells remain uncertain at best.

  In late May, researchers from the University of Texas reported they had engineered adult stem cells derived from human umbilical cord blood that were able to produce insulin. “This discovery tells us that we have the potential to produce insulin from adult stem cells to help people with diabetes,” said Dr. Randall J. Urban, senior author of the paper.

  Adult Stem Cells From Human Cord Umbilical Cord Blood Successfully Engineered to Make Insulin


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