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Stem cell hope for type 1 diabetes

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Stem cell transplants can allow type 1 diabetes patients to live for several years without insulin injections, a small US study has shown.

Patients who had been injected with their own blood stem cells were able to go insulin free while maintaining good glycemic control for up to four years.

The study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that 20 out of 23 patients were able to go without insulin injections.

People with type 1 diabetes do not produce enough insulin to regulate their blood sugar levels and usually require daily insulin injections to control their condition.

Scientists at Northwestern University in Chicago monitored 23 patients aged 13-31 with type 1 diabetes after they had undergone stem cell transplantation.

One patient went without insulin for four years, four patients did not use insulin for three years and three patients were insulin-free for two years.

The researchers found the patients’ levels of C-peptides, a marker of natural insulin production, had increased significantly a year after the stem cell treatment.

The authors said: ‘At the present time, this remains the only treatment capable of reversing type 1 diabetes in humans.

‘Randomised controlled trials and further biological studies are necessary to confirm the role of this treatment in changing the natural history of type 1 diabetes.’

Journal of the American Medical Association (2009) 301: 1573-1579

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