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Stem Cells Can Treat Diabetes

Posted: Friday, February 02, 2007

A new study suggests that a mother’s stem cells could be stored and used to treat her diabetic child.

The study found that a phenomenon known as microchimerism – in which mother and child exchange stem cells during pregnancy, which live on in the child – may actually help the child repair injury, and not trigger autoimmunity as the study's authors had initially suspected.

The study was carried out by scientists from the University of Bristol and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. They looked at maternal cells in children with type 1 diabetes and found that around 20% of these children have unusually high levels of maternal DNA in their circulation. The study of 172 individuals and the pancreatic tissue from four males was designed to test the hypothesis that small numbers of maternal cells might led to type 1 diabetes.

However, there was no evidence that the mother’s cells were attacking the child’s insulin cells and no evidence that the maternal cells were targets of an immune response from the child’s immune response. Instead, some maternal cells enter the child’s pancreas and function as insulin-producing beta cells.

"Our initial theory was that perhaps, in some situations, too many cells cross from mother to fetus in pregnancy. Could diabetes result because the child lost tolerance to those cells because they are genetically half foreign? Our research appears to disprove this," said one of the authors, Professor Edwin Gale from Bristol University. "It is possible that the maternal cells may even be helping to regenerate damaged tissue in the pancreas."

"To our knowledge a maternal contribution to endocrine function has not previously been described,” the scientists say. “Our findings also raise the possibility that naturally acquired microchimerism might be exploited to therapeutic benefit.” If a diabetic child were treated with their mother’s stem cells these cells would, theoretically, be a better genetic match than cells from an unrelated donor.



Source: Diabetes In Control: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jan 22, 2007

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