Science Questions

Sun, 6th Feb 2005

Part of the show Stem Cells & Stem Cell Therapy

Question

Alistair asked:

I'm a diabetic. What do you think is the realistic timescale to cure diabetes ?

Answer

- Roger - This is one of our key objectives. One of the biggest frustrations is that we can't say when we will have a cure. Hopefully we will have clinical trials in five to ten years, but it could be two to three times that.

- Chris - You might be aware of some grafts of pancreatic cells in Canada. They have grafted cells from people who have died, isolated the important cells and put them back into people with diabetes. This has had some good success. Eyelet cell transplants like this do not come from stem cells but from people who donate their pancreas after they die. There are side effects to the grafts because the immune system will attack it as foreign material. To stop this rejection, you need to turn off immune system. This can be bad, and so these grafts are only given to people who have very bad diabetes and might die otherwise.

- Huseyin - I would just like to give you some bullet points. Firstly, it is quite clear that we can make insulin secreting cells in the dish. It has been done with both types of stem cells. It has not been fully accepted that we have pancreatic stem cells, but embryonic stem cells can give rise to insulin cells. Secondly, the issue of transplantation is a very important one. Of the very small amounts of stem cells injected into animals and human, few actually survive. The surprising fact is that those cells cure in many cases, so you don't seem to need too many stem cells to survive to have an effect. Thirdly, the immune system might still attack the stem cells. If you have an immune disease that attacks the pancreas, it is just as likely that it will still attack the pancreas even after treatment. There's a lot more work to be done, but I think the study in Canada is very encouraging. Patients should take heart from that.

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