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Innovation

The cells from Brazil against Type I diabetes

Patients first boosted their supply of stem cells in the blood, so they did not need to be harvested from bone marrow. The immune systems in these stem cells were then suppressed, and the cells were injected back.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

Brazilian doctors report some success in weaning newly-diagnosed Type I diabetes patients from insulin using their own stem cells.

(The illustration is from a description of the country on a page advertising international education opportunities.)

A Northwestern University professor who worked with the Brazilians, Richard Burt, presented the findings to a news conference yesterday organized by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The treatment was straightforward. Patients first boosted their supply of stem cells in the blood, so they did not need to be harvested from bone marrow. The immune systems in these stem cells were then suppressed, and the cells were injected back.

Of the 23 newly-diagnosed Type I patients tested, aged 18-31, 20 got enough glucose control to go off insulin, and 12 of them were still insulin free about 30 months later.

This was Type I diabetes, sometimes called juvenile diabetes. It's an immune disease which stops the pancreas from producing insulin. It can't be prevented and results in a lifetime of careful monitoring and insulin injuections. Previous efforts used drugs to fight the immune system.

We are not talking here about Type II diabetes, which is far more common, and often the result of genes interplaying with obesity and high sugar intake.

A JAMA editorial accompanying the article notes that diabetes has no cure and thus all avenues aimed at slowing it are of value.

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