Stem Cells And New Drug Could Reverse Type 1 Diabetes
May 30, 2013

Using Stem Cells Could Help Cure Type 1 Diabetes

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Damage caused to insulin-producing cells by the immune systems of type 1 diabetes patients could be more damaging than previously believed, but a University of Missouri scientist believes that their new discovery could lead to the development of a potential cure for the condition.

Individuals suffering from type 1 diabetes rely upon their daily insulin injections in order to survive, and without those shots their body´s defense system would attack the very cells that they were designed to protect.

Now, Dr. Habib Zaghouani of the MU School of Medicine reports that these types of attacks can be more harmful than scientists had realized, and that this research could lead to improved treatment options featuring a combination of a promising new diabetes drug and adult stem cells.

“We discovered that type 1 diabetes destroys not only insulin-producing cells but also blood vessels that support them,” Dr. Zaghouani, who details his findings in the current online edition of the journal Diabetes, said in a statement.

“When we realized how important the blood vessels were to insulin production, we developed a cure that combines a drug we created with adult stem cells from bone marrow,” he added. “The drug stops the immune system attack, and the stem cells generate new blood vessels that help insulin-producing cells to multiply and thrive.”

Dr. Zaghouani has spent the last dozen years studying autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, which is also known as juvenile diabetes and can result in cardiovascular disease, kidney and nerve damage, osteoporosis and other complications. This form of diabetes attacks the pancreas, an organ which houses cell clusters known as islets which themselves contain beta cells, the researchers explained.

In most people, those beta cells make insulin, a substance which controls blood sugar levels, but in those with type 1 diabetes, they no longer do so because they have been attacked by the body´s immune system, they noted. When the immune system attacks those beta cells, the capillaries that help transport blood to and from the islets are also damaged, and it is this discovery that has inspired the Missouri researchers to work on a potential new cure.

Previously, Dr. Zaghouani and his colleagues developed Ig-GAD2, a new type of medicine used to help treat type 1 diabetes. They discovered that treatment with this drug helps prevent the immune system from attacking the beta cells. However, too few of the beta cells survived the attack to reverse the disease. Based on their new findings, he and his associates used Ig-GAD2 and then injected adult stem cells from bone marrow into the pancreas, hoping that those stem cells would ultimately evolve into replacement beta cells.

“The combination of Ig-GAD2 and bone marrow cells did result in production of new beta cells, but not in the way we expected,” Dr. Zaghouani said. “We thought the bone marrow cells would evolve directly into beta cells. Instead, the bone marrow cells led to growth of new blood vessels, and it was the blood vessels that facilitated reproduction of new beta cells. In other words, we discovered that to cure type 1 diabetes, we need to repair the blood vessels that allow the subject's beta cells to grow and distribute insulin throughout the body.”

He added that the discovery was “extremely exciting” for the research team. Dr. Zaghouani is reportedly pursuing a patent for this treatment method, and he hopes to continue his research, helping to make the leap from mice to humans. The work is being funded by the university and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).