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Cord Blood Stem Cells Help Reverse Type 1 Diabetes

Cord blood stem cells from a healthy donor can “re-educate” immune system cells, namely T cells, of the patients with diabetes type 1 not to destroy the body’s own pancreas cells producing insulin. This was shown in the study lead by a team of researchers from University of Illinois at Chicago. The study results were published online in the journal BMC Medicine.

The underlying mechanism of diabetes type 1 is an autoimmune process in which body’s own immune system T cells destroy pancreatic beta-cells responsible for insulin production. This leads to sharp decrease in body’s insulin production resulting in glucose concentrating in the blood instead of entering cells that causes damage to the body.

The researchers developed a procedure they named “Stem Cell Educator Therapy”. During the procedure, the blood of a diabetic patient circulates through a closed-loop system. The lymphocytes that contain T cells among them are separated and co-cultured two to three hours with stem cells from a cord blood of a healthy donor. After that, the “education” procedure is over and lymphocytes reenter the patient’s circulation.

To estimate the procedure’s effectiveness, the researchers conducted a small clinical trial involving 15 patients with type 1 diabetes. Twelve of them underwent the therapy with their lymphocytes being “re-educated” while the other three patients formed a control group and underwent a sham treatment.

The scientists checked the progress in the insulin production of the patients 4, 12, 24 and 40 weeks after therapy. As a result of the procedure, patents’ pancreas started to produce insulin, thus allowing for reduce in insulin doses. In six patients with severe diabetes course insulin dose was reduced by 25% at week 12 while in those with moderate course by 38%. No change in insulin production in the body, and thus in the dosage of the external insulin, was observed in the control group.

The author of the study suggests the cord blood stem cells released the autoimmune regulator AIRE that mediated changes in lymphocytes that allowed decreasing autoimmune attack and let pancreatic islet beta cells recover.