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Stem Cell Brings Hope in Brazil

The latest news about stem cell and diabetes are promising. The treatment involves stem cell transplants from the patients' own blood, which is designed to stop the immune system's attack on the pancreas. The procedure is very risky, and from the 15 patients in the study, 13 young Brazilian diabetics in Brazil have lived without insulin for the last 3 years. The other 2 patients did not die, but it didn't work for them. Their age range is from 14 to 31 years old.

It is too early to call it a cure, "but it is the first time in the history of Type 1 diabetes where people have gone with no treatment whatsoever? no medications at all, with normal blood sugars," said study co-author Dr. Richard Burt of Northwestern University's medical school in Chicago. Diabetes Type 1 is an autoimmune system illness, and it occurs when the body attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Without insulin, the blood sugar levels cannot be regulated, and if too high can cause heart disease, blindness, nerve problems, and kidney damage.

The study and treatment was conducted at the bone marrow center at the University of Sao Paulo, in Brazil. The procedure stimulates the body to produce new stem cells in the body. Then, the stem cells are collected from the patient's blood, and the chemotherapy session's goal is to shut down the patient's immune system and stop the destruction of the few remaining insulin-producing cell in the body. Finally, the stem cells, the ones that were harvested before the chemotherapy, are injected back into the body. This new stem cells are responsible to build a new immune system that does not attack the insulin producing cells.

The downside is that this treatment requires hospitalization and antibiotic treatment to fight infections. The duration of the procedure was hospitalization for 3 weeks. The side effects included nausea, vomiting and hair loss.

Doctor Julio Voltarelli of the University of Sao Paulo said that the "13 patients live a normal life, without taking insulin, and all 15 patients went back to their lives."

More study has to be done in order to determine if stem cell transplants could become standard treatment for people with diabetes. Some doctors raise question if the study should have included children. They think that it could damage their future health. On the other hand, there are some doctors that strongly believe that this study is a great step towards the cure process.

Source: Tanner Lindsey, San Francisco Chronicle.

Adapted by Editorial Staff, April 2007. Last update, August 2008



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