Diabetes UK has cautioned against giving false hope to people with Type 1 diabetes in light of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) today.
Researchers from Brazil and Chicago found that in a study of 15 people newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, 14 became insulin-free for between one and 35 months after their immune systems were suppressed and they received a transplant of their own bone marrow stem cells.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which a person’s immune system mistakenly destroys the cells that produce insulin (called beta cells). Scientists have previously shown that suppressing the immune system can slow down this destruction but this also carries the risk of potentially serious side-effects.
It is not known at this stage if the bone marrow stem cells are replacing the faulty immune system cells with ones that do not destroy the beta cells, or if the bone marrow cells are able to support the production of new beta cells. Much more work needs to be done.
“This is interesting new research that demonstrates that there may have been a substantial improvement in beta cell function, however we would wish to avoid giving false hope based on the very preliminary nature of these results," said Dr Iain Frame, Diabetes UK’s Research Manager. “This study had a very small number of participants and importantly did not include a comparison of people who received both immune suppression and a stem cell transplant with those who received either treatment alone.
"Also, as the researchers say, those who took part have not been sufficiently followed up to find out whether or not the improvements in their insulin secretion have continued. It is well known that there is often a short-lived ‘honeymoon period’ of relative remission after the onset of Type 1 diabetes that complicates the interpretation of results such as the ones shown in this study. "All these issues need to be addressed through more research before there are any conclusive findings in this area.”