Stem cells for diabetes

Published: Aug. 3, 2015 at 12:14 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 3, 2015 at 4:38 PM EDT
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SAN DIEGO (Ivanhoe Newswire/WTVM) - There are 1.2 million Americans have Type I diabetes, a disease where the immune system stops the pancreas from making insulin.

Patients rely on daily blood sugar checks and insulin injections to survive. But now, there's hope on the horizon. Researchers are conducting the first study to look at embryonic stem cells for type-one diabetes.

Jeremy Pettus, MD, Associate Professor at the University of California, San Diego has checked his blood sugar every day, several times a day, for the past 20 years.

Pettus says, "I figured out the other day, I think I've checked my blood sugar somewhere in-between 40-50,000 times in my life."

He has type I diabetes where his pancreas doesn't make insulin, so he has to inject his own.

Pettus isn't just a patient with the disease; he's also a doctor who wants to cure it.

He says, "It would be absolutely life-changing."

Pettus and Robert Henry, MD, Endocrinologist at the University of California, San Diego, are conducting the first study in humans to see if embryonic stem cells can help patients with type I diabetes make insulin.

The stem cells are grown in the lab and programmed to develop into islet cells — the special cells in the pancreas that normally produce insulin. Then they are placed in a special capsule to prevent immune rejection.

"Then that's placed underneath the skin in patients with type I diabetes" Dr. Henry explains.

In animal studies, the stem cells secreted insulin and regulated blood sugar levels. Researchers are hoping for the same in humans. They are studying 40 patients in a phase one safety trial. If it works, it could change millions of lives, including Jeremy's.

Pettus says, "It would be the greatest thing ever."

Type I diabetes typically affects children and young adults, but older adults can also be diagnosed with the disease.

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