We know millions of people worldwide suffer from diabetes and that there is no cure.
Proper management of diabetes requires a delicate balance of diet, exercise, and insulin injections or other diabetes medications.
Currently, scientists and doctors all over the world are conducting stem cell research and clinical trials in an attempt to discover a cure for type 1 diabetes melitus.
What is diabetes
A very basic explanation is that diabetes is a disease where the body can’t regulate or properly use glucose (sugar) in the blood.
It is the pancreas’ job to regulate blood glucose levels.
When blood sugars rise, beta cells in the pancreas create and release insulin. Insulin tells the cells throughout the body to take up glucose from the blood to use as energy.
In type 1 diabetes the body’s immune system attacks and kills the insulin-producing beta cells.
In type 2 diabetes, cells don’t take up enough glucose, either because they are insensitive to insulin, or too little insulin is produced.
Type 1 diabetics require daily testing and insulin injections.
Diabetes is one of the fastest-growing diseases in the world with approximately 1.5 million new diagnoses each year in the US alone.
Symptoms of Diabetes
Before Diagnosis both type 1 and type 2 diabetes share many symptoms such as
- frequent urination
- excessive thirst and drinking a lot
- feeling very hungry
- feeling very fatigued
- blurry vision
- cuts or sores that don’t heal properly or take longer to heal
People with Type 1 may also experience irritability and mood swings as well as unintentional weight loss. People with Type 2 may experience tingling or numbness in their hands and/or feet.
The symptoms of Type 1 Diabetes develop very quickly over several weeks. Although it usually develops in childhood and adolescence it is possible to get Type 1 Diabetes later in life.
Many people with Type 2 don’t have any symptoms for many years then the symptoms may develop slowly over time. Some people don’t experience any symptoms at all and only find out they have Type 2 once complications arise such as heart and blood vessel disease, neuropathy (nerve damage), kidney damage, or eye damage to name a few.
How is diabetes treated?
In type 1 diabetes, patients must frequently monitor blood glucose levels and inject insulin several times daily. A healthy diet and regular exercise also contribute to diabetes management.
Type 2 diabetes can sometimes be managed through diet and exercise alone. Most type 2 diabetics will eventually require insulin or other drugs to treat complications of diabetes.
Failure to properly manage diabetes cand result in a multitude of complications that can affect the eyes, nerves, and skin.
Diabetics with uncontrolled blood glucose levels also have an increased risk of high blood pressure and stroke or heart disease.
It is important to work closely with your diabetes management team and follow your treatment plan consistently.
What are researchers doing?
In recent years, there has been a ton of research going on globally as the search for a cure for diabetes melitus continues.
Lab studies help us understand:
- disease progression
- potential genetic causes
- similarities and differences between patients
This information is used for earlier diagnosis, prevention of disease progression as well as more effective treatment options.
While stem cell therapy does hold immense promise in treating diabetic patients, the clinical applications of human embryonic stem cells are limited by ethical concerns.
Another area that is being researched is in the area of Induced Pluripotent Stem(iPS) cells which are a type of pluripotent stem cell that can be generated directly from a somatic cell.
In some earlier studies, scientists successfully transformed stem cells into insulin-producing cells called beta cells. However, they were unable to control how much insulin these cells produced.
By tweaking their method of developing these cells they were able to produce cells that were more responsive to glucose levels within the blood.
This is certainly promising but more research is needed before this can be widely available.
It stands to reason that patients with type 1 diabetes would greatly benefit because new beta cells would certainly replace the ones they had lost to the disease.
In the case of type 2 diabetics, new beta cells could increase their body’s ability to produce and use insulin.
In both cases, this could reduce the need for injections.
There has also been researching into pancreatic transplants. This doesn’t seem as promising due to a worldwide lack of pancreas donors.
Complications to stem cell therapy
A big challenge for type 1 diabetes is autoimmunity.
This means that if new beta cells are created or transplanted into a patient, their immune system will eventually destroy those cells.
A recent study involving converting human stem cells into insulin-producing cells shows promise if the results they have found in mice can be replicated in human trials.
New treatments must consider how to prevent the new beta cells from being targeted by the immune system.
The use of immune suppressants unfortunately increases the risk of infection which makes it not a feasible option.
It really is encouraging to read these studies and learn of the developments made towards finding a cure for diabetes melitus.
While there is currently no cure for diabetes, it can be successfully managed.
It is important to know the symptoms and seeks medical attention immediately if you or someone you love is experiencing any of the symptoms of diabetes.
Once diagnosed, it is imperative to follow your diabetes management plan as set forth by your team.
Be sure to report any complications to your doctor immediately.
Researchers are making great progress in the area of using stem cells to one day provide a cure for diabetes.
Naturally more research is needed but I wholeheartedly believe we are closer to a cure than ever before.
I am feeling very encouraged and believe we may even have a cure within our grandson’s lifetime.
What are your thoughts about stem cell research?
Are you feeling encouraged as well?
Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.