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Can immune systems of people with Type 1 diabetes be re-educated?

A team of researchers have developed a new method that uses cord blood stem cells to ‘re-educate’ the immune systems of people with Type 1 diabetes.

So far the approach has only been tested in a small number of people with diabetes but the lead researchers, who are based at the University of Illinois in Chicago, suggest that using stem cells in this way might be able restart pancreatic function, reducing the need for insulin.

In people with Type 1 diabetes, cells of the immune system attack insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, destroying the body’s ability to regulate blood glucose. Stem cell educator therapy involves ‘re-educating’ immune cells by introducing them to stem cells from donated umbilical cord blood. The stem cells discourage immune cells from attacking the pancreas so they are less harmful when returned to the patient.

Further study needed

Richard Elliott, Research Communications Officer at Diabetes UK, said, "This research involved only 15 participants and is still at a relatively early stage. However, it is innovative and appeared to offer improvements in the control of blood glucose, even in those with severe Type 1 diabetes.

"We will be interested to see the results of further studies with larger numbers of participants so that the value of this approach for people with diabetes can be determined."

The research paper features in the journal BMC Medicine.

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