NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - In a small study, a treatment
that included stem cell transplantation induced prolonged
insulin independence in patients with newly diagnosed type 1,
or insulin-dependent, diabetes.
In a statement, lead author Dr. Julio C. Voltarelli, from
the Regional Blood Center in Ribeiro Preto, Brazil, called the
results "very encouraging."
While the same approach has been used in other autoimmune
disorders, the current study, to the author's knowledge,
represents the first time the approach has been used in human
type 1 diabetes.
In type 1 diabetes, a person's immune system attacks and
destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.
Preserving beta cells is a key concept in the management of
type 1 diabetes and in the prevention of its related
Voltarelli's team tested the ability of high-dose immune
suppression and stem cell transplantation to preserve beta cell
function in 15 patients who were diagnosed with type I diabetes
in the previous 6 weeks. All of them required insulin.
Stem cell transplantation involves the harvesting and
treatment of a patient's own stem cells and then returning them
to the patient via intravenous injection.
During follow up, 14 patients became insulin-free -- 1 for
35 months, 4 for at least 12 months, and 7 patients for at
least 6 months. Two "late responders" were insulin-free for 1
and 5 months, respectively.
The therapy was well tolerated; the only severe side
effects were pneumonia in one patient and endocrine dysfunction
in two others.
While further study is needed, Dr. Jay S. Skyler, from the
University of Miami, comments in a related editorial, "the time
may indeed be coming for starting to reverse and prevent type I
SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association, April