How stem cells treat diabetes is an ever ongoing subject for medical research and shows great promise. The University of Pennsylvania is currently conducting clinical trials for a new surgery called Islet Cell Transplantation.
The new procedure involves transplanting islet cells from a matching donor. Beta islet cells are the cells from the pancreas that secrete insulin. The procedure is for Type 1 diabetics whose Beta islet cells have been destroyed and so no insulin is produced. These patients need to be on insulin therapy for the rest of their lives. Since the cells are transplanted into the liver, the body after the first transplant can give warning signs when the blood sugar is too low. Many Type 1 diabetics have no warning and often just black out which can be dangerous when driving or performing other critical tasks.
Islet cell transplantation can not treat most cases of Type 2 diabetes but is a possible cure for the over 700,000 people in the United States who have Type 1 diabetes. But, currently there are not enough donors to go around with only around 3,500 donor organs available last year. Most patients currently need 2 transplantations to get totally off insulin therapy.
The solution to this problem is to make islets in the lab using stems cells. There is currently research going on using controversial embryonic stem cells as well as stem cells taken from adults. But because of the ethical and political debate concerning stem cells this pathway to a cure is moving slowly. People who believe that life starts at conception strongly oppose embryonic stem cell research because the cells come from human embryos which are destroyed in the process. Embryonic stem cells have not matured into human cells and have the greatest potential to become any type of cells in the human body, including hair, skin, blood, toenail etc.
Opponents to this research believe that adult stem cells taken from adult bone marrow is the answer to this problem. But there are studies which raise questions about the ability of these cells as therapies.
A recent published study reported that an intestinal hormone caused stem cells taken from a pancreas to become islet cells that secrete insulin – these are called beta cells, but there is debate over this research and it has not been able to be reproduced.
Although the research using stem cells is in its infant stages many scientists believe that this research holds the most promise for success for diabetics to be able to stop taking insulin injection after their bodies start producing the hormone naturally.
How stem cells treat diabetes is an ever ongoing subject for medical research and shows great promise in the struggle to find a cure for this chronic disease.
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