Posted on: March 12, 2020 at 4:20 pm

According to the National Diabetes Statistics Report, as of 2020, the number of cases of diabetes in the United States has risen to over 34 million, which is over ten percent of the population [1].

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Diabetes is associated with many different health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-limb amputation, among others. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States and costs over three hundred billion dollars annually [2].

Type I Diabetes can be managed through lifestyle changes like diet and exercise along with, of crouse, insulin therapy, but a cure has yet to be discovered, until recently.

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Stem Cells Cure Diabetes

Scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis recently revealed that they have successfully cured diabetes in mice using human stem cells [3].

The findings, which can be found in the February 24 edition of the online journal Nature Biotechnology, explain how researchers converted stem cells into insulin-producing cells and were able to successfully control the blood sugar of mice by infusing them with these new cells [3].

“These mice had very severe diabetes with blood sugar readings of more than 500 milligrams per deciliter of blood — levels that could be fatal for a person — and when we gave the mice the insulin-secreting cells, within two weeks their blood glucose levels had returned to normal and stayed that way for many months,”Jeffrey R. Millman, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine and of biomedical engineering at Washington University, explained to reporters [3].

Researchers have previously used human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) to create insulin-producing beta cells, however, this process was not effective at curing type 1 diabetes. 

“A common problem when you’re trying to transform a human stem cell into an insulin-producing beta cell — or a neuron or a heart cell — is that you also produce other cells that you don’t want,” explained Millman [4].

He said that while implanting these other cells won’t cause any harm, these “off-target” cells reduce the number of therapeutically useful cells.

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“You need about a billion beta cells to cure a person of diabetes,” he said. “But if a quarter of the cells you make are actually liver cells or other pancreas cells, instead of needing a billion cells, you’ll need 1.25 billion cells. It makes curing the disease 25% more difficult.” [4]

Read: 10 Early Signs of Diabetes to Recognize for a Timely Diagnosis

An Innovative Solution

Millman and his team used an innovative new approach that targets the cytoskeleton of the hPSC cell. This “scaffolding” is what gives the cell structure and mechanical support, allowing it to move, divide, and multiply [4].

Targeting the cytoskeleton allows the researchers to make less irrelevant cells, making it easier to direct the hPSC cells’ transformation into pancreatic cells [4].

“Previously, we would identify various proteins and factors and sprinkle them on the cells to see what would happen. As we have better understood the signals, we’ve been able to make that process less random.” [4]

Read: Okra Controls Hunger and Diabetes, Lowers Cholesterol, and Fights Fatigue

A Quick Cure

The mice who received the new cells saw their blood sugar levels return to normal in just two weeks, and remained that way for at least nine months, “functionally curing” them.

These findings are very exciting, but there is still a long way to go before we see the treatment used in humans. First, researchers have to try using the technique in larger animals. Once they have done that, they then have to find a way to automate the process, because they will need to produce billions of cells to treat the millions of people across the globe who have type 1 diabetes [4].

As Millman and his team continue working on the process, the medical community will be watching closely, awaiting a potential life-changing cure for many of their patients.

Keep Reading: Help Prevent Type 2 Diabetes and Balance Blood Sugar with These 10 Foods

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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