Scientists successfully reversed diabetes by transplanting with with human stem cells in a discovery that may lead to way to finding a cure for a disease that affects 8.3 percent of the U.S. population.
Researchers say that the latest study, published in the journal Diabetes, was the first to show that human stem cell transplants can successfully restore insulin production and reverse type 1 diabetes in mice.
In an experiment designed to mimic human clinical conditions, researchers were able to wean diabetic mice off of insulin four months after the rodents were transplanted with human pancreatic stem cells.
Scientists led by Timothy Kieffer, a professor in the Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences at the University of British Columbia in Canada, and scientists from the New Jersey-based BetaLogics, were able to recreate the "feedback loop" that enabled insulin levels to automatically rise or fall based on the rodents' blood glucose levels.
Additionally, researchers found that the mice were able to maintain healthy blood sugar levels even after they were fed large quantities of sugar.
After several months, researchers removed the transplanted cells from the mice and found that the cells had all the markings of normal insulin-producing pancreatic cells.
"We are very excited by these findings, but additional research is needed before this approach can be tested clinically in humans," Professor Kieffer said in a statement.
Researchers noted that their study had used mice that had a suppressed immune system to prevent rejection of the transplanted cells.
"The studies were performed in diabetic mice that lacked a properly functioning immune system that would otherwise have rejected the cells. We now need to identify a suitable way of protecting the cells from immune attack so that the transplant can ultimately be performed in the absence of any immunosuppression," he added.
Type 1 diabetes is a disease that happens when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, a hormone that enables glucose to be stored by the body's muscle, fat and liver to be used as fuel. Insulin shortage can lead to high blood sugar, blindness, heart attack, stroke, nerve damage and kidney failure.
The most common treatment for type 1 diabetes is regular injections of insulin, and while experimental transplants have been shown to be effective, researchers said that the treatment is severely limited by the availability of donors.
Previous research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that type 1 diabetes can be successfully reversed by injecting patients with their own stem cells.
Other studies have found that stem cell transplantation can only temporarily treat diabetes because anywhere from half a year to three years after transplantation, the patient's immune system often begins rejecting and attacking transplanted insulin-producing cells.