A small Chinese study has reported that 15 of 28 young type 1 patients, aged 14 to 30 years, who underwent an experimental adult stem cell procedure were able to stay off insulin injections for an average of 18 months. Though not conclusive, the study highlights an interesting avenue of research that could eventually dramatically reduce insulin dependence among type 1s.
The patients were enrolled in the study by researchers at Ruijin Hospital in Shanghai, China, an institution that has been conducting extensive research into both embryonic and adult stem cells.
The procedure used on the young patients involved two steps. First, in an experimental treatment called autologous nonmyeloablative hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, the patients received drugs designed to stimulate their production of blood stem cells. The cells were then set aside and frozen.
Next, the researchers administered drugs designed to kill the immune system cells that attack insulin-producing pancreatic cells in type 1s. Once that was done, the blood stem cells were unfrozen and injected into the patients. The immature cells lacked the destructive programming of the immune cells they replaced.
The results were very encouraging. More than half of the patients were able to quit insulin use for significant periods of time, including eight who have gone two years without needing insulin injections and one who has gone 42 months without an insulin shot.
Among the side effects of the immune-system suppressing drugs were bone marrow suppression, hair loss, fever, nausea, vomiting, and low white blood cell counts. According to the Chinese researchers, however, most side effects were gone after four weeks, and none of the 28 patients developed an infection.
An abstract of the study is available.