Stem cell therapies have shown tremendous promise with numerous diseases (heart disease, Alzheimer’s, etc…), but to date, diabetes has not been the most appropriate diseases for this form of treatment. Japanese researchers have recently tried to change this trend, making progressive proposals of how to utilize stem cells for diabetes.
Two major challenges addressed by the Japanese researchers were, “Given the shortage of human pancreatic islet tissue, can stem cells be used to provide insulin cells that can be stored and secreted from a bioartifical pancreas?” and “will the use of artificial cells for transplantation compensate for the shortage of donor organs?”
The proposal of how to use stem cells for diabetes centers around the transplant of a “functional bioartifical pancreas (BAP), complete with cells that can secrete insulin in response to blood sugar concentrations,” which “can be developed using stem cells as alternatives to normal human pancreatic islets, which are in short supply.” These BAP transplants have been performed on animals, and have shown “excellent induction of new blood vessels” says researcher and CELL TRANSPLANTATION Journal editor, Dr. Naoya Kobayashi of Okayama University.
There have also been animal studies conducted in which pancreatic islet cells (those mentioned to be in such short supply above) from deceased animals were frozen. It was then found that “islet structure was well maintained after thawing, although the number of islets decreased.” This result is promising in that pancreatic islet cells can be conserved from deceased individuals, though the count will go down due to the freezing.
Research for stem cells treating diabetes is in its very early stages, and years away from human implementations. The proposals of the above Japanese researchers do however show promise in the ability to implant an artificial pancreas in diabetics, with insulin cells created from stem cells, which would function as a healthy pancreas should. The shortage of insulin cells produced by the pancreas is the root cause of diabetes, making stem cell therapy a potential cure for this fast growing and dangerous disease.
Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Kobayashi, Naoya. CELL TRANSPLANTATION press release. March 2008.