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Stem cell research and diabetes (Oct 2011)

To achieve our mission to improve the lives of people with diabetes and work towards a future without diabetes, cutting-edge research of the highest scientific quality is essential and therefore at the heart of our work.

Stem cell research is a relatively new area of investigation, believed by many in the scientific and medical communities to have important potential for the treatment of many conditions. In relation to diabetes, stem cells have the potential to provide an unlimited source of cells for research, replace missing or damaged insulin-producing cells, replace other cells damaged by diabetes, or reboot the faulty immune system responsible for causing Type 1 diabetes.

For more information about the different types of stem cells used in research, and their potential to benefit people living with diabetes, please refer to our Stem Cell Research Factsheet.

Following a member and stakeholder consultation in 2001 and a survey of members in late 2009, Diabetes UK has committed to support stem cell research both publicly and financially through our research grant programme. This position is also in line with that of the Association of Medical Research Charities, of which Diabetes UK is a member. In our 2009 survey of Diabetes UK members, an overwhelming majority supported the use of adult stem cells in diabetes research, around two thirds supported the use of human embryos, and a majority supported the use of human-hybrid embryos. 

All applications for Diabetes UK research funding must comply with the Government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill and are subject to rigorous scrutiny in terms of the quality and relevance of the research to people with diabetes. Applications to Diabetes UK in the area of stem cell research compete in the same way as other applications for research funding.

Diabetes UK acknowledges that there are important ethical considerations surrounding the use of stem cells in research, and will continue to monitor developments in stem cell research to ensure our investment in research holds the maximum potential to improve the lives of people living with diabetes.

A few studies involving stem cells have entered early stage clinical trials. However, these techniques are still experimental and, even if they prove successful, are many years away from widespread use on the NHS as treatments for diabetes.

Nevertheless, some clinics in countries like Mexico, China and India are offering untested and unproven stem cell therapies to people with diabetes and other conditions, often in exchange for considerable sums of money. Diabetes UK does not recommend that people travel abroad to receive such therapies, as novel medical treatments in many foreign countries are not regulated as carefully as they are in the UK and could be harmful to health.

October 2011

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