November 7, 2011

Disguising stem cells in search of a diabetes cure


Often times when I read stories about stem cell development in pursuit of a cure for type 1 diabetes I get a feeling of what’s the use. Ideally stem cells are supposed to become the  cells they are cultivated to replace. But because type 1 diabetes is caused by an autoimmune misfire that destroys the islets – the stem cells are likely to become islets that are destroyed  by the body once again.

The closest thing to curing type 1 diabetes is replacing the islets. Islets restore normal glucose levels and manufacture insulin. Said islets come from a deceased donor. Statistically speaking there are 35,000 new cases of type 1 diabetes each year and 2,000 cadavers that can donate islet cells. This number does not account for the millions of people already living with type 1 diabetes in the US. Here’s where stem cell technology may offer a solution for an infinite source of islets.  

Unlimited islets is enormous. Don’t get me wrong. I’ m not looking for a reason to be a Debbie Downer but islets are only half the solution to the problem of type 1 diabetes. We’ve got that whacky immune response to rectify. How can this be done?

 To this end we consider a way of disguising the cells by encapsulation. A coating that enables optimized release of insulin in response to the recipient’s blood glucose.  All of this is being developed by ViaCyte Inc. in San Diego, California.

The LA Times article is hugely informative. For the first time I’m impressed with the progress of stem cell research. To read the entire article, click here.