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Stem Cell Therapy Promising for Type 1 Diabetes


Type 1 diabetes can affect anyone but it usually starts in people younger than 30. It is a lifelong disease, and there is no cure. But doctors recently tested a stem cell therapy that appears to eliminate the need for insulin or any other medication for long periods of time. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.

With type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. Insulin takes sugar, or glucose, from the blood to the cells.

Too much or too little insulin can lead to life threatening conditions or even death.

Fifteen-year-old Kim Black has had type 1 diabetes for the past ten years. She life with the disease, "I don't even know what it's like to live without type one diabetes.

For Kim and other diabetics there is no freedom from monitoring food intake and insulin levels.

Kim has an insulin pump implanted in her side that gives her the life-saving medication she needs to survive. "It's got a little tube and I press the buttons to give myself insulin whenever I'm high -- my blood sugar is high -- or I eat something, and I do that about five times a day or more."

A report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association says a stem cell transplant has freed some type 1 diabetes patients from needing insulin medication.

Dr. Richard Burt of Northwestern University near Chicago designed the study that took place in Brazil. "These are not embryonic stem cells. These are your own circulating blood stem cells from the patient themselves."

After doctors harvested the patients' own stem cells, they received high doses of chemotherapy to suppress their immune systems. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system malfunctions and attacks cells that produce insulin. After the chemotherapy, the patients had their own stem cells transfused back into their bodies. Fourteen of the 15 participants were then able to produce their own insulin again.

"This is the first time in the history of diabetes that patients have gone an interval, an interval up to three years, and perhaps longer...only time will tell...requiring no treatment, no insulin, no immune suppression, no medications at all" Dr. Burt said.

Doctors hope this stem-cell based therapy will be able to help large numbers of people with type one diabetes, as well as those with other immune system disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Video courtesy of The Journal Of The American Medical Association

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