Diabetes currently affects millions of people all over the world. There are two types of diabetes: type one and type two. With type one diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks beta cells of the pancreas, which is what produces insulin. By far, type two diabetes is the more common type, and it’s characterized by the progressive decline of B cell function and insulin resistance. But is there hope for the future for diabetes sufferers? Cord blood stem cells are said to have a positive impact in clinical trials providing unexpected results and the answer that researchers have been searching for. So, can stem cells cure diabetes? Are there any complications with this type of treatment? What has research shown that indicates umbilical cord stem cells is the solution? Let’s find out.
A Future Without Diabetes
Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death in America. While both types of diabetes can be managed, there is no cure. As a result, since diabetes is a lifelong condition, it can severely impact a person’s quality of life. This disabling disease comes with a number of complications that can result in death. However, research has shown that cord blood stem cells have the ability to generate new pancreatic B cells that can replace those cells that have been destroyed or that have simply failed.
Ongoing Research is Promising
Stem cell replacement therapy is only just one of many potential treatment options for people suffering from a diabetes diagnosis.
A major setback for scientists searching for a diabetes cure is the lack of cadaveric donor pancreata for use as a source of transplantation cells. Unfortunately, it’s also not possible to use a patient’s own cells to regenerate B cells. Because of this, researchers are searching for new sources of beta cells, including different types of stem cells.
One of the goals of researchers is to develop a strategy to expand the number of functional B cells in the body. In order to achieve this, one method involves replacing the B cells through transfusion, which can work to increase B cell replication and reduce the amount of B cell death. However, considering there is a significant lack of available donor tissue, this avenue of research has remained very limited.
Cord Blood Stem Cells are the Solution
Because of these challenges, scientists have turned to cord blood stem cell transplants as a possible solution. Type one diabetes is the perfect candidate for regenerative medicine. With a stem cell transfusion, the cells would migrate to the damaged tissues in the body and differentiate as needed in order to maintain a healthy B cell population. Additionally, other methods could be used to encourage the cells grown in labs to transform into insulin-producing cells. These cells could then be transplanted into a patient.
You can learn more about umbilical cord blood and the many benefits of regenerative medicine by clicking here to read our guide.
The Benefits of Stem Cell Therapy in Diabetic Patients
If successful, the result of regenerative therapy would benefit the patient by replenishing the B cells that were previously destroyed by the immune system’s response. However, it would still be necessary to assuage the destruction of B cells. Stem cell therapy would also benefit people with mild cases of diabetes type two by simply replacing the damaged B cells.
Why Ongoing Medical Research is Still Needed
Made up of many types of cells, the pancreas is a very complex organ. Most of its mass is made up of exocrine tissues, which contain cells that secrete enzymes into the intestine, an important part of the digestion process. Throughout the exocrine tissue are thousands of clusters of endocrine cells which secrete and produce hormones into the blood in order to maintain homeostasis. The B cell is just one type of endocrine cell found in these cell clusters. Other types include delta cells, alpha cells, and gamma cells.
The key part of using stem cells to effectively treat diabetes is to identify the precursor cells that give rise to the B cells. But generating these cells is very complicated.
Research has shown that stem cells could potentially work as sources of insulin-secreting cells, which has led some of the top researchers in the world to explore different avenues regarding which cells can be efficiently used to regenerate B cells. But in order for a particular type of stem cell to become established for this approach, there are many challenges that must be addressed first.
Because the human body is home to a wide range of inherent mechanisms that are designed to repair damaged tissues, there is a reason to believe that the pancreas can be helped by some type of regenerative system, such as umbilical cord stem cells.
Many studies are currently underway to determine whether or not stem cells are the answer to diabetes treatment, but research is a long way from figuring it out. It’s still not clear how long it would take to produce a sufficient number of B cells for a transplant that could offset the amount of damage that was caused by the diabetes process, or how to prevent the transplanted stem cells from differentiating into another type of cell instead of the B cell.
Clearly, the use of stem cell therapy to treat diabetes will still take several years of research before scientists are able to figure out how to correctly manipulate the cells and ensure they turn into B cells. But the progress that has been made has brought scientists closer than ever before to finding an answer to an effective diabetes treatment, providing that light at the end of the tunnel that simply wasn’t there just five years ago.
There are still so many challenges that must be addressed before stem cells can be used to regenerate the islet tissue. As researchers continue to learn more about stem cell differentiation and programming, those diagnosed with diabetes have hope that treatment will be available in the near future, thanks to the increase in stem cell donors, and ongoing clinical research that focuses on regenerative medicine as a safe, more effective treatment option.