Treatment modalities have been continuously changing especially for last three decades or so due to new and novel approaches being introduced by the research. Stem cell therapy is one such break through advancement in medical science that has revolutionized treatment strategy to cure many diseases. The old concept “some body cells if damaged are irreversibly lost”, has been changed with the introduction of stem cell therapy. Now by virtue of stem cells we can regenerate any cell type from pluripotent stem cells (cells having ability to differentiate into any cell type) and the regenerated cells perform function of the damaged cells. Stem cell therapy has been found extremely beneficial in curing a number of diseases and diabetes mellitus is one big example of its utility.
Diabetes mellitus is one of the major health problems and in United States alone; 23.6 million people are suffering from diabetes mellitus that makes 7.8% of total population of America. In addition, 57 million people have pre-diabetes that means they have risk of developing diabetes in near future. Treatment cost for diabetes mellitus in United States was estimated to be 174 billion dollars per annum in 2007. All these statistics are sufficient enough to portray the severity of the problem. Moreover the available treatments of diabetes mellitus carry the uneasiness of taking daily medicines and injections with sub-optimal control of the condition. Stem cell therapy can overcome the problem of daily injecting insulin and taking drugs by replacing beta cells in pancreas that will produce insulin by them. The initial results of stem cell therapy in curing diabetes mellitus are promising and it is expected that this modality will replace other treatments in near future.
In type 1 diabetes mellitus the basic defect is low levels of insulin in the body due to destruction of beta cells of pancreatic islets and the remaining cells are not able to produce sufficient amount of insulin. The other consequences of diabetes result from low-insulin levels. Stem cell therapy is aimed at replacing beta cells of pancreatic islets which secrete insulin. This is quite natural treatment of diabetes that reads the basic defect and corrects it. Stem cells have two sources: embryonic stem cells (ESC) and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are taken from the umbilical cord and preserved for the future needs while adult type stem cells can be taken from the body at any time. The stem cells may be multi-potent (that differentiate into many cell types but not all cell types of body) or pluripotent (that can differentiate into virtually every cell type of the body. The cell differentiation needs special factors or substances that affect the differentiation programs of the stem cells.
A study published in Journal of the American Medical Association showed encouraging results of stem cell therapy in type 1 diabetes mellitus. The research team at University of São Paulo (Brazil) and Northwestern University (Chicago) led by Dr. Julio Voltarelli conducted this research on stem cell therapy in 2007. Fifteen patients having type 1 diabetes mellitus were selected for the study; they were injected with their own stem cells. Patients were subsequently followed to evaluate the effectiveness of stem cell therapy. It was found that all the fifteen patients were having blood glucose well in normal range and C-peptide (indicator of insulin release) levels were raised in all the patients. This was a great success of stem cell therapy and later on many other clinical studies narrated same story of success for stem cell therapy in cure of diabetes mellitus.
A lot of research is underway to refine stem cell therapy and issues related to it and it is hoped that this will not only cure diabetes mellitus but also will prove beneficial in curing other dreadful diseases.