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Stem Cell Therapy Cures Type 1 Diabetes in Mice

Whether the new approach would work in humans is unknown, experts say

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Serena Gordon

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, June 5 (HealthDay News) -- Using an immune-suppressing medication and adult stem cells from healthy donors, researchers say they were able to cure type 1 diabetes in mice.

"This is a whole new concept," said the study's senior author, Habib Zaghouani, a professor of microbiology and immunology, child health and neurology at the University of Missouri School of Medicine in Columbia, Mo.

In the midst of their laboratory research, something unanticipated occurred. The researchers expected that the adult stem cells would turn into functioning beta cells (cells that produce insulin). Instead, the stem cells turned into endothelial cells that generated the development of new blood vessels to supply existing beta cells with the nourishment they needed to regenerate and thrive.

"I believe that beta cells are important, but for curing this disease, we have to restore the [blood vessels]," Zaghouani said.

It's much too early to know if this novel combination would work in humans. But the findings could stimulate new avenues of research, another expert says.

"This is a theme we've seen a few times recently. Beta cells are plastic and can respond and expand when the environment is right," said Andrew Rakeman, a senior scientist in beta cell regeneration at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). "But, there's some work still to be done. How do we get from this biological mechanism to a more conventional therapy?"

Results of the study were published online May 28 in Diabetes.

The exact cause of type 1 diabetes, a chronic disease sometimes called juvenile diabetes, remains unclear. It's thought to be an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks and damages insulin-producing beta cells (found in islet cells in the pancreas) to the point where they no longer produce insulin, or they produce very little insulin. Insulin is a hormone necessary to convert the carbohydrates from food into fuel for the body and brain.

Zaghouani said he thinks the beta cell's blood vessels may just be collateral damage during the initial autoimmune attack.

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