Stem cell therapy may help treat type 2 diabetes

A human embryonic stem cell line derived at Stanford University.(REUTERS/Julie Baker/Stanford University School of Medicine/California Institute for Regenerative Medicine/Handout)

Type 2 diabetes is marked by insulin resistance, or the bodys inability to store sugar and convert it into carbohydrates for energy. Overcoming that resistance is the main hurdle scientists face in creating new treatment for the condition, but researchers in Canada have found a promising means for doing so: combining stem cell therapy and antidiabetic medication.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for nearly 95 percent of the 400 million diabetes cases worldwide. Current treatment involves imprecise insulin injection, and can produce side effects like unwanted weight gain, gastrointestinal issues and low blood glucose levels. Eighty percent of Type 2 diabetes patients are overweight.

In the study, published Thursday in the journal Stem Cell Reports, scientists observed that transplanting human stem cells into mice with Type 2 diabetes symptoms, then administering common antidiabetic drugs, improved the mices glucose metabolism, body weight and insulin sensitivity three hallmark problems associated with the condition.

There have been similar reports looking at treatment of type 1 diabetes by stem cell-based replacement, and there are many people around the world who are interested in that, lead study author Timothy J. Kieffer, a molecular and cellular medicine professor at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, told FoxNews.com. Until this point, nobody to our knowledge had tested such a stem cell-based transplant study in a Type 2 diabetes model.

Many [of these studies] have been predicted to fail because one of the characteristics of Type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance, and that is in part due to obesity and higher demands of insulin, Kieffer added, and therefore it might be predicted that insulin replacement wouldnt work if were just putting insulin back.

Researchers fed four separate groups of immunosuppressed mice a different diet to try to emulate humans diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. One group of mice received a 45 percent fat diet; one a 60 percent fat diet; one a high-fat, Western diet; and the last a low-fat diet. No single group of mice developed a phenotype that exactly mimicked a Type 2 diabetes human patient, but all three high-fat groups ended up exhibiting characteristics that mirrored the hallmark features of the condition.

Study authors transplanted human embryonic stem cell (hESC)-derived pancreatic progenitor cells into the mice after they began exhibiting symptoms. These cells are programmed to expand and differentiate when transplanted into the pancreas, and to subsequently secrete insulin.

To transplant the human stem cells, researchers used a macroencapsulation device, a mechanism that is meant to prevent the body from detecting nonnative material as foreign and subsequently rejecting it. Because the mice were immunosuppressed, the device wasnt necessary, but Kieffer said his team used it so their findings would be more relevant for future clinical trials, wherein the patients would not be immunosuppressed. Researchers opted to induce Type 2 diabetes symptoms in immunosuppressed mice instead of using the mice model genetically engineered to assume Type 2 diabetes for that same reason.

The hope in the field is that some sort of device will eliminate the need for immunosuppression when cells are transplanted, Kieffer said.

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Stem cell therapy may help treat type 2 diabetes

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