A Bone to Pick With Diabetes
Diabetic patients may one day rely on their own bone marrow for treatment. Researchers have reversed diabetes in animal models using stem cells derived from marrow. The method is not ready for human use just yet, but it suggests that pancreatic rejuvenation may be within reach.
First, a little primer: In Type 1 diabetes, the beta cells—special cells that are supposed to manufacture insulin in the pancreas—have gone awry. Without insulin, the body cannot process blood sugar, so patients with diabetes end up with a host of lifelong health problems.
Enter the new research. Scientists at Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute extracted stem cells from bone marrow and modified them to express a gene that generates new insulin-producing beta cells.
Nine diabetic mice received an infusion of the modified stem cells. Diabetes was reversed in five, all of them exhibiting near-normal blood-sugar levels. The other four subjects survived and thrived, suggesting the stem cell booster was beneficial even when it did not reverse the disease. If the discovery can be translated into a treatment, it could potentially replace the burdensome and invasive options of today: pancreatic transplantation or a lifetime of insulin injections. The article’s principal authors—John Yu, MD, vice chair of the Department of Neurosurgery, and Anna Milanesi, MD, PhD, an endocrinology fellow in Dr. Yu’s lab—cautioned that, while this and similar studies help broaden scientists’ understanding of the processes and pathways involved in pancreatic regeneration, more research is needed before human trials can begin.