Diabetes is an oft used term that is not understood by a vast majority of the population. Diabetes is a term that refers to a small group of diseases that results from insulin not being produced by the pancreas or not enough insulin being produced by the pancreas. The result is that the glucose levels in the body can go dangerously high, causing a wide variety of life threatening and life changing consequences. Currently, there is not a treatment for diabetes despite the fact that more than 16 million people in the United States alone have diabetes and the number is continuing to grow.
Stem cell treatments for diabetes have been on the horizon for ages. Those who are suffering with the disease have long hoped that stem cell treatments would be approved and would be in wide use so the disease could be stopped in its tracks. And, controlled research has found that not only can stem cell treatments for diabetes slow the progress of the disease, it can reverse it.
The reason that stem cell treatments for diabetes can be so dramatic is because the pancreas is damaged. Diabetes is a disease of the immune system. For unknown reasons, the body targets islet cells in the body, which are responsible for producing insulin. The body sees these cells as invaders and destroys them, as well as the body’s ability to make insulin, requiring synthetic insulin injections for the remainder of the patient’s life.
With injections of stem cells within the body, the process could be stopped in its tracks. Stem cells will travel to damaged parts of the body, including the pancreas. They are able to take on the characteristics of islet cells and will start producing insulin again. In short, the stem cells would take away the need of the patient to take insulin or other diabetes medications because the body would again be able to produce its own insulin and control blood glucose levels effectively.
Of course, because diabetes is a disease of the immune system, if stem cell treatments for diabetes are approved and are made available to the masses, it will need to go hand in hand with other treatments. This is because the immune system will likely see that the new insulin producing cells are “invaders” and will kill them off once again. So, the stem cell treatments for diabetes would likely need to go hand in hand with immune system suppressant medications to keep the immune system from killing off the newly formed islet cells that will once again produce insulin.
The hold back is, of course, the controversy surrounding the use of stem cells for any reason. For those who are fighting the disease and the doctors that are helping them, the hope is that stem cell treatments for diabetes will be approved sooner rather than later, in conjunction with any other immuno-suppressant medication so that those who have diabetes can once again be diabetes free.