Diabetes and Stem Cell Treatment

05 December 2019 Written by
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What are the findings of research on diabetes and stem cell treatment. Diabetes is a devastating disease that affects millions of people worldwide. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S, It is also a common condition, affecting about 30.3 million people in the United States, or 9.4 percent of the U.S. population.

Diabetes and stem cell treatment without proper management can raise a number of complications. Diabetes can affect the eyes, nerves, and skin, and people with this condition also have an increased likelihood of high blood pressure and stroke.

Forms of Diabetes

The major forms of Diabetes are type 1 and type 2 diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body's immune system aberrantly destroys the insulin-producing beta cells (b-cells) of the pancreas.

Type 2 diabetes, the more common form, is characterized both by insulin resistance, a condition in which various tissues in the body no longer respond properly to insulin action, and by subsequent progressive decline in b-cell function to the point that the cells can no longer produce enough additional insulin to overcome the insulin resistance.

Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks the beta cells in the pancreas. When the beta cells are lost there is not sufficient insulin for proper control of glucose levels. Resulting high sugar levels in the blood can cause damage to the kidneys, eyes, nervous system, and other organs. People of all body types can be diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at any age.

Type 2 diabetes, previously known as adult-onset diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, cells in the body become resistant to insulin. They don’t respond well to the insulin released by beta cells. The beta cells produce more insulin to signal the other cells, but eventually are not able to compensate. As with type 1, high blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes can cause serious damage to the body. The incidence of type 2 diabetes increases in people over 45 but type 2 is increasingly diagnosed in younger individuals. Genetic background, obesity, and lack of exercise are common risk factors that predispose to type 2 diabetes.

The Pancreas and diabetes

Where is the pancreas?: located in the abdomen, next to the small intestine and stomach.

The pancreas plays a critical role in controlling sugar levels. Within the pancreas are hundreds of thousands of cell clusters, known as the islets of Langerhans, which contain multiple types of hormone-producing cells that regulate blood glucose.

Most importantly, these include beta cells, which produce a hormone known as insulin that is released into the bloodstream when blood sugar levels reach a certain threshold, signaling other cells in the body to take up sugar, a major energy source for the body’s cells. The human body is constantly balancing the amount of available blood sugar, levels that are either too high or too low can be harmful.

In diabetes, blood sugar is elevated either because the pancreas does not produce enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or because or cells in the body fail to respond to the insulin that is released (type 2 diabetes).

Stem Cells In Diabetes

Stem cells are a form of cell that is yet to develop a specific set of traits. However, what stem cells have in abundance is the potential to develop into a number of different forms. Stem cells for the treatment of diabetes are able to come from a variety of sources. These include foetal tissue from:

  • Embryos
  • The placenta
  • Umbilical cord
  • Bone marrow
  • Blood cells
  • Teeth

Within recent years, stem cell research has become a very important part of the scientific understanding of diabetes. Stem cells are promising because they can form any tissue. However, to make a specific type of cell, researchers must replicate the exact signals that transform a stem cell into a beta cell, rather than a neuron or muscle cell.

Stem cells reverse diabetes

Diabetes is manageable with proper care, but no cure is yet available. Some scientists believe that transforming stem cells into insulin-secreting cells might offer hope.

In previous studies, scientists successfully transformed stem cells into insulin-producing cells called beta cells. However, they ran into problems during these earlier attempts, primarily because it was difficult to regulate how much insulin the new beta cells produced. By tweaking the way in which they developed the cells, the team behind the current study has produced beta cells that are more responsive to glucose levels in the blood.

The researchers found that when they transplanted the new cells into mice that could not produce insulin, the cells began secreting the hormone within a few days. Better yet, they helped control the animals' blood sugar for months.

How is diabetes treated?

Type 1 diabetes patients are given insulin to help them control their glucose levels. These patients, however, often struggle to optimally balance their blood sugar and they need to monitor their blood sugar multiple times a day. New technologies, such as multiple types of insulin pumps, have greatly improved treatment for some people, enabling the delivery of individualized doses or a steady stream of insulin, but they cannot precisely mimic the healthy human body’s constant, sophisticated monitoring and adjusting of insulin production provided by normal beta cells.

Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be controlled with diet and exercise. However, many people with type 2 diabetes eventually have to take insulin injections to control blood sugar levels and/or other medications to deal with complications from the disease.

There have been great advances in reducing the toll from diabetes-related complications through improvements in insulin administration and glucose monitoring, but the ideal treatment will be the replacement of the missing insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells.

Recent breakthroughs in deriving glucose responsive stem cells from human stem cells has provided encouragement for stem cell replacement therapy. More evidence is demonstrating the potential for embryonic stem cells, adult stem cells, and progenitor cells to produce Beta cells with the ability to produce insulin, reduce glucose levels in animal models, and to some extent, reverse diabetes symptoms through pancreatic regeneration.

The ultimate goal, which has so far proved elusive, is a cure for diabetes, which could potentially be available for both types of diabetes through stem cell research.

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