Adult stem cells may hold the key to long-term remission of Type 1 diabetes, according to a study published in the April 11 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Thirteen of the 15 patients treated with adult stem cells (ASCs) in a study by a team of Brazilian researchers saw their diabetes go into remission for at least six months.
ASCs are undifferentiated cells found throughout the body, which other studies have shown can divide to replenish dying cells and regenerate damaged tissues. They are so potent they have the potential to regenerate an entire organ from just a few cells.
Because ASCs are found in all tissues–including placentas and umbilical cord blood–ASC research doesn’t require the destruction of human embryos, as does the touted but so far unsuccessful embryonic stem cell (ESC) research.
Diabetes joins the growing list of diseases ASCs have been shown to treat effectively. Others include blindness and spinal cord injuries.
“I think this is another step forward in being able to use your own adult stem cells to help alleviate various disease and injuries,” said Dr. David Prentice, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, a Christian policy research group in Washington, DC. “What [researchers] basically did was take the cells, do a cleansing of the body, and then reboot it with the stem cells. This is very encouraging, since this is the first trial for the procedure and some of the people have been in remission as long as three years.”
Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a free-market research group in Seattle, agreed.
“This is a demonstration, and certainly not the first, of [adult] stem cells being able to show remarkable capacity to provide therapeutic benefit in early trials,” Smith said.
“Embryonic stem cells have not been proven to be better than adult stem cells,” Smith continued. “In fact, they have been proven to cause tumors in animal studies. The idea that the pure potency of embryonic stem cells gives them the ability to become any tissue in the body is purely theoretical. The reality is that the issue with embryonic stem cells is an ethical debate, not a scientific one.”
Insistent ESC Advocacy
Policymakers, however, are largely ignoring ASCs’ proven advances in order to push for more funding for ESC research.
In April, the U.S. Senate passed on a 63-34 vote the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007 (S. 5). Introduced by Senate Majority Leader Henry Reid (D-NV), the bill would expand the possibilities for federally funded ESC research. The only ethical stipulations in the bill are that the stem cells come from leftover embryos donated by in vitro fertilization clinics, which otherwise would have been discarded.
S. 5 passed the House of Representatives in January. President George W. Bush has promised to veto it.
The Hope Offered through Principled and Ethical Stem Cell Research Act (S. 30) was also passed in April, 70-28. The legislation offers alternatives to ESC research by opening the door to the taxpayer-funded use of stem cells from dead embryos.
The bill also would fund research on ways to harvest ESCs without harming the embryo. Bush voiced his support of S. 30; at press time, it was awaiting action by the House.
The success of ASC research means it’s time for the political, medical, and scientific communities to devote more attention and dollars to ASC research, Prentice said.
“At the federal level, we are sort of at a point where we just can’t do too much more when it comes to embryonic stem cell research, because the president says he will veto any bill that creates more money for the old lines,” Prentice explained. “Where we would like to see a push at the federal level is in the area of funding to support adult stem cell line studies.”
Prentice continued, “A lot of the clinical trials and federal money in adult stem cells goes to making bone marrow transfers better. But there are a lot of clinical trials [in other nations that] resulted in patients improving immensely after adult stem cell treatments. These are patients that were treated for things like brain damage, heart disease, stroke, and liver damage.
“Heart disease is the largest killer in the United States, and there are hundreds of people walking around in the world with better hearts because of adult stem cells,” Prentice noted.
Aricka Flowers ([email protected]) writes from Chicago.
For more information …
“Autologous Nonmyeloablative Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation in Newly Diagnosed Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus,” by Julio C. Voltarelli et al., Journal of the American Medical Association, April 11, 2007, http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/297/14/1568