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Stem cell ‘hopes’ for diabetes

11th April 2007

A treatment using patients’ own blood stem cells could help to reduce the need for insulin in people with type one diabetes, a new study claims.

Brazilian and US researchers gave 15 newly diagnosed patients with type one diabetes a high dose of immunosuppresion to prevent further destruction of their pancreatic cells.

They followed this with a process known as AHST, which removes and treats stem cells from the patient’s blood and then returns them via intravenous injection.

During a seven- to three-year follow-up, the researchers found that 14 patients became insulin free. In one person this lasted for 35 months while another four were insulin free for at least 21 months; seven for at least six months; and two with late response were insulin-free for one and five months respectively.

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the researchers describe the results as “very encouraging”.

“Further follow-up is necessary to confirm the duration of insulin independence and the mechanisms of action of the procedure,” they add.

“In addition, randomised controlled trials and further biological studies are necessary to confirm the role of this treatment in changing the natural history of type one [diabetes] and to evaluate the contribution of haematopoietic [blood] stem cells to this change.”

Dr Iain Frame, research manager at Diabetes UK, described the study as “interesting” but warned against possible “false hope” due to the “preliminary nature” of the results.

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