The burden of diabetes worldwide is increasing, and this disease contributes to low quality of life, human suffering, morbidity, and mortality. New drugs are being developed, such as glucagon-like peptide mimetics and glucose transporter inhibitors. According to the International Diabetes Federation, 7% of the world’s population is affected by diabetes. In addition, around 54 million Americans had pre-diabetes, which occurs before the onset of full-blown disease. Because of the increased incidence of this disease, researchers are exploring stem cell therapy for the treatment of diabetes.
Recently, a scientist was awarded the 2012 Nobel Price for Medicine for developing induced pluripotent stem cells as an approach for diabetes treatment. Scientists are aware that to persuade a pancreatic cell to produce insulin is only one step along the stem cell therapy journey. The stem cells can be expanded, made to transform/differentiate, and can be obtained from the patient’s own body. The increased interest in stem cell therapy for diabetes involves search for ways to replace beta cell mass, increase beta cell replication, and decrease beta cell death.
Before studies involving humans are initiated, researchers must first study animal subjects. In 2006, Yamanaka was able to produce stem cells from a mouse in cultures by adding certain factors. This was repeated with human tissue as well. There have been many emerging reports of how stem cells have become antigenic to a host, because they accumulate certain DNA abnormalities. However, directing differentiation of stem cells to form beta islet cells is promising, and these cells secrete insulin and stop changes according to appropriate glucose levels.
In Singapore, studies of umbilical cord-derived stem cells have shown much success in having expression of glucagon and insulin genes. In animal studies, the cells were found to be cured of diabetes for up to nine months after stem cell therapy where human insulin genes were constructed by electrophoration and then injected in the pigs’ livers.
The first clinical trial assessing stem cell therapy for diabetes type 1 was conducted in 2007. The study involved 15 patients who were followed for 3 years. In this study, 14 (almost all) patients became insulin free, and the treatment was proven safe and effective. In addition, all blood levels were significantly improved following the stem cell treatments. In a follow-up study, researchers discovered that stem cell therapy improved beta cell function in type 1 diabetes, and a 2012 clinical study found that half the study participants were no longer insulin dependent after 12 months.
In a controlled randomized study, 13 patients were treated with stem cells and followed for 54 months. After the treatment period, 11 of the participants required lower doses of insulin, and had better blood values. In addition, all study participants had increased levels of c-peptide. The patients in another study were treated with human cord-derived stem cells. Of 12 people, all tolerated the treatment with no adverse effects. In addition, when compared to the control group, the treatment group had increased glucose-stimulated c-peptide levels, decreased doses of insulin, and reduced blood values.
Another clinical research study investigated combined bone marrow stem cell therapy with HBO treatment in patients with type 2 diabetes. The study participants were followed over three years. In the study, 31 people all showed a decrease in mean hemoglobin A1C values, and after only 90 days, the patients all had increased c-peptide levels. Overall, all people in the study had reduced use of oral medications and lowered need for insulin.
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Amniotic and Umbilical Cord Stem Cell Treatments