Stem cell therapy can’t yet treat diabetes

Research still in developing stages and too expensive to treat the many millions of people who have the disease.

Anant Naik

 In November 1998, professor James Thompson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison isolated and cultured human stem cells, making a discovery that would revolutionize the future of genetics research and open a window to potential cures for diseases.

Stem cells — preliminary cells that have the ability to turn into other cells through a process called differentiation — are being used to study a plethora of diseases. For the past several years, scientists have explored how to use stem cells to treat both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is widely considered to be a leading cause of death worldwide, with projections estimating that by the year 2030, 460 million people in the world will have the disease.

Here at the University of Minnesota, faculty members are researching embryonic stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells and stem cells within the human body.

However, tremendous advances in research today tend to make us delusional about the limits of progress. In reality, these research projects’ results remain inaccessible to most people, and they do not address the larger concern of diabetes or the implications of treating the global community.

From a societal perspective, research takes an incredible amount of time and resources. This doesn’t mean that stem cell projects should be considered worthless, but it does mean that people must recognize that therapies will not magically appear in the next year.

Research at the microscopic level requires precision and many trials before it comes to any conclusion. Currently, scientists use mice as test subjects for many experiments with stem cells. Moreover, researchers would need to conduct extensive research on larger animals before beginning human trials.

Even if any treatments were proven to be effective, it would be incredibly expensive to implement them. Studies show a correlation between income status and the willingness to address current health conditions. If someone was born with Type 1 diabetes and didn’t have the income to pay for medication, he would likely not apply for experimental, expensive therapy. It will require a whole new level of collaboration among researchers to develop cost-effective treatments.

This makes expensive stem cell treatments inaccessible to a significant portion of the global population. By implementing these treatments, we would not only increase the health-income disparity, but we would also increase the challenge of delivering medicine to less-accessible areas of the globe.

Instead of emphasizing the advances of stem cell research, we must understand that disease prevention — especially through a healthy diet and plenty of exercise — is still the best method to protect oneself against ailments like diabetes.

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