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Stem Cell Transplant

Reviewed by Michael Fuller, MD

A stem cell transplant involves the injection of stem cells into the pancreas in order to restore its ability to produce insulin and regulate blood sugar.

Detailed Description

A stem cell transplant involves the injection of stem cells into the pancreas in order to restore its ability to produce insulin and regulate blood sugar.

Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disorder in which a person’s immune system attacks beta cells, the cells in the pancreas responsible for producing insulin. Without these cells, the resultant lack of insulin makes it impossible to process the glucose necessary to sustain life without a lifelong regimen of lifestyle changes and insulin injections.

In recent years, improved cell culture technology has made it possible to harvest and treat beta cells, then return them to diabetes patients via intravenous injection. A 2007 clinical trial conducted at the Regional Blood Center in Ribeiro Preto, Brazil demonstrated that patients are able to function without insulin injections for at least six months – and as much as 32 months – when they received stem cell transplants in combination with immune suppressing drugs.

Currently, the methodology is far from pristine: more research is required to perfect the outcomes, and the side effects of immune suppressing drugs may be serious. They include a rounded face, acne, development of facial hair, abdominal problems, increased vulnerability to infection, increased risk of cancer, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Even so, the prospect of as much as three years without symptoms makes stem cell transplantation a promising step towards surgery and insulin-free living for patients with type 1 diabetes.

Last updated: 10-Dec-07

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