How can stem cells treat diabetes?
Diabetes is a persistent medical condition that impairs the body’s capacity to regulate blood sugar levels. Although various treatments and medications are available to mitigate the symptoms and avoid complications, the disease has no known cure. It is caused by an autoimmune response that targets and destroys pancreatic β (beta) cells, which are responsible for producing insulin.
Since the body fails to maintain blood sugar levels on its own, people with diabetes require insulin injections. This is currently the only option for patients suffering from type 1 diabetes.
According to research, stem cell therapy has been shown to restore the function of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas potentially, thus helping treat this problem. In this article, this will be discussed.
Stem cell therapy for diabetes
The cell-based approach is a promising treatment for diabetes as it can help in the regeneration of damaged pancreatic cells that produce insulin. This factor makes stem cell therapy particularly important for patients with type 1 diabetes, considering their permanent dependency on insulin injections to control blood glucose levels. Let’s look at the types of the disorder and how stem cells are helpful in minimising their harmful effects.
What is type 1 diabetes?
This autoimmune disease is characterised by the immune system attacking and destroying insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Insulin controls the blood glycaemic index by allowing glucose to enter the body’s cells and use it for energy and storage. Insufficient amounts of insulin result in a rise in glucose levels in the bloodstream, leading to high blood sugar levels, which can cause various symptoms and complications.
The symptoms of the disorder include:
- Frequent urination.
- Rapid weight loss.
- Increased thirst and appetite.
- Blurred vision.
- Slow wound healing.
Type 1 diabetes usually develops in childhood or young adulthood but can occur at any age. It is often diagnosed through a blood test that measures blood sugar levels and the presence of certain autoantibodies such as:
- GAD antibodies (GADA)
- autoantibodies (IAA)
- insulinoma-antigen 2 antibodies (IA-2A, also called ICA512)
Treatment for type 1 diabetes typically involves lifelong insulin therapy, monitoring blood sugar levels, and lifestyle modifications with a proper workout plan and dietary alterations.
What is type 2 diabetes?
Non-insulin-dependent diabetes, also known as diabetes type 2, is a chronic condition that affects how the body processes blood sugar (glucose). In type 2 variation, the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or becomes resistant to insulin, a hormone that regulates the blood glycemic index. After food consumption, the body converts carbohydrates into glucose, which is then transported into cells by insulin. However, in people with type 2 variation, cells in fat, muscles, and liver cannot take in enough glucose, leading to a buildup of it in the bloodstream.
Over time, high blood sugar levels can cause serious health problems, including damage to the heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes, and kidneys. Some risk factors that may lead to the disorder include:
- prior family history of this disease;
- being physically inactive;
- having a poor diet.
Old age is also one of the factors which may lead to the onset of type 2 diabetes.
Is there a cure for diabetes?
There is currently no known cure for this disease. Diabetes type 2 occurs by a combination of lifestyle and genetic factors, such as being overweight or inactive. People with type 2 can often manage their condition through a healthy diet and exercising regularly but may also need medications, insulin, or other treatments to help manage blood sugar levels.
While there is no cure for this disorder, ongoing research is focused on developing new treatments and therapies that can improve management and prevent complications. People suffering from this condition are advised to work with their healthcare providers to develop a personalised treatment plan that fits their individual needs and goals.
“The International Diabetes Federation predicts that by 2045, nearly 700 million adults will have diabetes. The cause, specifically of type 1 diabetes (T1D), is not fully understood, but research suggests a combination of genetic, environmental, and viral factors may contribute to its development. Currently, the most widely used treatment for T1D is administering insulin externally, but it does not provide a cure for the disease.”
— “The Role of Mesenchymal Stem Cells in the Treatment of Type 1 Diabetes”, doi: 10.7759/cureus.27337.
Can stem cells help with diabetes?
A potential treatment proposed to cure the disorder is stem cell therapy. However, its effectiveness and safety are still being researched and debated in the scientific community, i.e., can stem cells cure diabetes?
Much work is being done to use stem cell for diabetes type 2 and metabolically programming them to create glucose-sensing, insulin-producing beta cells in the body. Some researchers are exploring the possibility of using stem cells as replacements for these, which would allow the body to produce insulin again.
The body’s immune system resulting in the destruction of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas causes type 1 diabetes. Scientists working on stem cells observed that they could help people with T1D better control their blood sugar levels. Several clinical trials are ongoing to study the safety and effectiveness of stem cell therapy for diabetes, with varying degrees of success.
“We now understand stem cell transplants can succeed in treating diabetes for some. We discovered the immune signature predicting these outcomes — either favourable or not — which is the first step toward personalised medicine in type 1 diabetes. Understanding why it sometimes fails will allow us to design new treatment strategies for those less fortunate patients. Also, it is the first definitive proof that T1D can be cured.”
— Bart Roep, PhD, Professor of Diabetology.
Stem cells can be derived from various sources, including induced pluripotent, embryonic, and adult versions. However, each source has its advantages and limitations regarding availability, differentiation potential, and ethical considerations.
Benefits and disadvantages of stem cell therapy
Like any medical treatment, cell therapy for diabetes has both pros and cons. The disorder can cause several complications, including cardiovascular disease, neuropathy, and retinopathy. Stem cell therapy may reduce the risk of these complications by repairing and regenerating damaged cells in the body. Transplanted stem cells cures diabetes to some extent by potentially recreating insulin-producing pancreatic islets. It has the potential to manage the disease by regenerating damaged cells of the pancreas and thus restoring the body’s ability to produce and regulate insulin. It is a natural way of healing from the inside of the body.
Disadvantages of stem cell therapy for the disorder include its safety. There is a risk of complications, such as infection, and immune system reactions, in case the cell-based product was not properly prepared. In addition, stem cell therapy is an expensive treatment, and it may not be covered by health insurance and thus can be a significant barrier for some patients. The use of embryonic stem cells for therapy raises ethical concerns for some people. In this regard, adult mesenchymal stem cells are a better option for therapy.
In conclusion, cell therapy has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of diabetes. Still, more research is needed to fully understand its benefits and risks and develop safe and effective protocols for its clinical application. It is essential to weigh stem cell therapy’s potential benefits and disadvantages carefully and consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions about treatment.
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The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read.