The Promise of Stem Cells: Diabetes
Diabetes has been diagnosed in about 11 million people in the United States. People with diabetes do not properly produce insulin, which is necessary to regulate sugars and starches. While pancreas and islet transplants end reliance on insulin injections for some, there is a shortage of donors. In the United States, there are more than 30,000 new cases of type 1 diabetes each year but only 3,000 potential donors whose pancreases are suitable. Currently, there is no cure for diabetes.
Stem cells offer promise to those with diabetes. If stem cells could be cultivated to become cells that produce insulin, they could solve the problem of donor shortage. If a stem-cell therapy could be developed, it would also help relieve diabetes-related diseases of the kidneys, eyes, nerves, and veins.
To treat diabetes, stem cells need to be cultivated into insulin-producing cells. Once that has been accomplished, researchers expect to transplant stem cells that have been cultivated into insulin-producing cells into diabetic patients. Currently, those who receive transplants must take drugs that suppress the immune system. If a person’s own stem cells could be cultivated and used for transplant, those drugs would not be needed. Ultimately, researchers hope to cure diabetes.
Researchers are recruiting patients for islet transplants as well as clinical trials. They will also be seeking diabetic patients once stem cell transplant trials are available, which may be in the next few years.
The public can support progress by Stem Cell Institute researchers at the University of Minnesota by contributing to the institute’s fund at the Minnesota Medical Foundation.