Thursday, April 12, 2007

Another adult stem cell breakthrough

~from Times Online (hat tip to Edmund C.). Diogenes has made it a game to count how many paragraphs it takes the reporter to identify that the stem cells were adult stem cells. If you read the complete Times article, you'll notice the bit of editorializing about the opposition to embryonic stem cell research.
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Diabetics using stem-cell therapy have been able to stop taking insulin injections for the first time, after their bodies started to produce the hormone naturally again.

In a breakthrough trial, 15 young patients with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes were given drugs to suppress their immune systems followed by transfusions of stem cells drawn from their own blood.

The results show that insulin-dependent diabetics can be freed from reliance on needles by an injection of their own stem cells. The therapy could signal a revolution in the treatment of the condition, which affects more than 300,000 Britons.

People with type 1 diabetes have to give themselves regular injections to control blood-sugar levels, as their ability to create the hormone naturally is destroyed by an immune disorder.

All but two of the volunteers in the trial, details of which are published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), do not need daily insulin injections up to three years after stopping their treatment regimes.

The findings were released to reporters yesterday as the future of US stem-cell research was being debated in Washington.

Stem cells are immature, unprogrammed cells that have the ability to grow into different kinds of tissue and can be sourced from people of all ages.
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They enrolled Brazilian diabetics aged between 14 and 31 who had been diagnosed within the previous six weeks. After stem cells had been harvested from their blood, they then underwent a mild form of chemotherapy to eliminate the white blood cells causing damage to the pancreas. They were then given transfusions of their own stem cells to help rebuild their immune systems.

Richard Burt, a co-author of the study from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said that 14 of the 15 patients were insulin-free for some time following the treatment. Eleven of those were able to dispense with supplemental insulin immediately following the infusion of stem cells and have not had recourse to synthetic insulin since then, he said.

“Two other patients needed some supplemental insulin for 12 and 20 months after the procedure, but eventually both were able to wean themselves from taking daily shots,” he added. One patient went 12 months without shots, but relapsed a year after treatment after suffering a viral infection, and resumed daily insulin injections. Another volunteer was eliminated from the study because of complications. The therapy, known as autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, has already shown benefits to individuals with a range of auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and lupus.

Read more. If you want to read the JAMA report, here's the link.

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