Stem Cell Therapy Reverses Type 1 Diabetes

A novel treatment method called stem cell educator therapy appears to reverse the effects of type 1 diabetes, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and colleagues in China report.

A novel treatment method called stem cell educator therapy appears to reverse the effects of type 1 diabetes, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and colleagues in China report.

Stem cell educator therapy involves separating lymphocytes from the patient’s blood and passing them over immobilized cord blood stem cells collected from healthy donors, after which they are returned to the patient. The result is that the lymphocytes are “re-educated” in a manner that results in rebooting pancreatic function and decreasing the need for insulin.

The researchers studied 15 patients with type 1 diabetes aged 15 to 41, with a median age of 29. All had moderate diabetes with a median diabetic history of eight years. Twelve of the participants were randomly assigned to receive stem cell educator therapy, while the remaining three received sham therapy. Each patient was given one treatment, and their progress was checked at intervals four, 12, 24, and 40 weeks following the therapy.

By 12 weeks, all participants who received the stem cell therapy showed improved levels of C-peptide, a protein fragment that is a byproduct of insulin manufacture and is used to gauge how well beta cells are working. This improvement continued through to the end of the study.

The researchers reported that stem cell educator therapy resulted in no adverse events and was well tolerated in all participants with minimal pain from two venipunctures.

As pancreatic function improved for those receiving the stem cell therapy, the daily dose of insulin necessary to maintain blood glucose levels could be reduced. The glycated hemoglobin indicator of long term glucose control (HbA1C) also dropped for people receiving stem cell treatment, but not for those in the control group.

“Stem cell educator therapy is safe, and in individuals with moderate or severe T1D, a single treatment produces lasting improvement in metabolic control,” conclude the authors in the study’s abstract.

The study was published online today in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Medicine, and a provisional PDF is available online.