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Auto-immune Diseases: Diabetes Type I    
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Regenerative Medicine Treatments

Modern medicine offers a few options to help alleviate the symptoms of diabetes but as of now it doesn't offer a cure. So, researchers are looking for headway in the relatively new and promising field of regenerative medicine.   Instead of replacing cells and organs in sick individuals, the idea is to regenerate those cells or organs, or in other words, to re-grow the body’s own natural cells that were destroyed.  In patients with Type I Diabetes, scientists are studying how to regenerate the insulin-producing islet cells of the pancreas.

Stem Cells

The key to re-growing cells is to use stem cells.  Stem cells are special self-renewing cells found in certain areas in the body that mature into different cells, organs, tissues, and muscles. 

Current Research:
Read more about the study that studies making islet cells from brain stem cells here.

Scientists are experimenting with harvesting and cultivating stem cells that could mature into islet cells, and then transplanting them into patients with Type I Diabetes - an islet cell transplant!  For example, some researchers at Stanford University believe that stem cells from the brain can mature into islet cells. 

But even with new insulin-producing cells derived from the individual’s own body, an auto immune reaction against them is still a problem.  The nature of autoimmune diabetes Type I is that the body already attacked its own cells, so its T cells and other white blood cells are still programmed to attack these new cells.  Instead of taking immunosuppressant drugs, which are damaging to the body, scientists are developing two methods to resolve this problem.  

One is to place the re-grown beta cells into special protective capsules that would not allow the immune system to detect the cells.  The capsules would be designed to let insulin out and allow blood sugar in. 

Another idea is to “shave” off the proteins on the surface of the insulin-making cells that seem to be activating the autoimmune reaction. Because cells use the proteins on their surfaces to read each other and take specific actions from these signals, the proteins on beta cells could be responsible for telling T cells to attack the insulin-producing cells. Getting rid of some of these proteins might prevent the immune system from attacking.

Hopefully, scientists will soon be able to create insulin-producing cells from stem cells as well as prevent an autoimmune reaction, and cure people with Type I Diabetes.



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