Researchers at the University of Florida have treated children, aged 2 to 7, with infusions of their own stored cord blood, with some improvement in insulin production and control of blood sugar.
No one knows the exact mechanism that causes the disease we know as Juvenile or Type I Diabetes Melitus (DMI), but it is thought to be due to some combination of auto-immune disease (when the body’s immune system causes damage to its own tissues) and possibly an infection, along with an unknown genetic susceptibility. Not only do the patients make antibodies against their own insulin-producing cells, they also make antibodies against their own insulin. It appears that the cord blood contains regulatory T cells which reverse some of the effects of the DMI on the pancreas.
From the University of Florida press release:
UF researchers identified children recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes whose families banked their
umbilical cord blood at birth. Most were still producing a small amount of insulin. The researchers then gave seven patients ages 2 to 7 intravenous infusions of stem cells isolated from their own cord blood. (They have since treated an additional four children.) The patients were evaluated for the next two years to measure how much insulin they were making on their own and to assess blood sugar levels and the function of key immune system cells.
In the first six months, they required significantly less insulin — on average 0.45 versus 0.69 units of insulin per kilogram per day — and maintained better control of blood sugar levels than children of comparable age with type 1 diabetes who were randomly selected from the clinic population. The researchers also noted that the children who received cord blood infusions had higher levels of regulatory immune cells in their blood six months after the infusion, on average 9 percent of the total cell volume compared with 7.21 percent at the time of infusion.
“This isn’t a cure-all. We think that giving these cells is essentially providing some immunotherapy and downregulating the autoimmunity these patients have,” Haller said. “Realistically, we hope to protect what’s left of their insulin-production for an extended period of time. We think the immune regulation hypothesis is more likely than the hypothesis that stem cells are forming insulin producing cells on their own.”
The idea would be to intervene and repair any early damage during the “honeymoon period” many patients enjoy — the first several months after diagnosis during which insulin needs are minimal, he added.
The results are consistent with what we already know about Type I diabetes (DMI) and the stem cells that some receive from their mothers before or at birth. The men and women who were found to have functional stem cells from their mothers did not have complete remission of their DMI, either.