Umbilical cord blood may safely preserve insulin production in children newly diagnosed with Type I Diabetes. University of Florida (UF) researchers sought to determine whether it is feasible to use a patient’s own cord blood stem cells to neutralize the body’s autoimmune attack on the pancreas and help restore the organ’s ability to make insulin, which regulates how the body uses sugar and other nutrients for energy.
“This is the first attempt at using cord blood as a potential therapy for Type I 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 pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Michael Haller, an assistant professor of medicine at UF’s College of Medicine.
“While this is a relatively small study we can confidently say this is safe, and we have seen metabolic and immunologic changes to suggest there may be benefit,” Haller said. “It’s not curing diabetes, but this is a first step to help us learn more and get us moving in the right direction.”
For the small study, researchers chose 7 children recently diagnosed with Type I Diabetes whose families had banked their umbilical cord blood at birth. Most of the patients were still producing a small amount of insulin. These 7 patients were given intravenous infusions of their own stem cells isolated from their own cord blood. No adverse events associated with the transfusions were observed. For the next 2 years, the patients were evaluated to measure how much insulin they were making on their own and to assess blood sugar levels and the function of key immune system cells. A control group was randomly selected of 13 youngsters of similar age and diabetes duration who had been intensively treated with insulin only.
“This isn’t a cure-all. We think that giving these cells is essentially providing some immunotherapy and down-regulating the autoimmunity these patients have,” Haller said. “Realistically, we hope to protect what’s left of their insulin-production for an extended period of time. We think the immune regulation hypothesis is more likely than the hypothesis that stem cells are forming insulin producing cells on their own.”
Illustration: A newborn with umbilical cord still attached (3 minutes.)
University of Florida News (06/25/07)
United Press International (06/26/07)
MedPage Today (06/26/07)
Science Daily (06/26/07)
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