Clinical trial looks to use stem cells to combat diabetes

The University of Minnesota is set to begin the first phase-II clinical trial to use stem cells to combat diabetes in the United States. The study, led by Brandon Nathan at the Department of Endocrinology at the University, is just beginning and is looking for participants who have very recently been diagnosed with type-I diabetes. Type-I diabetes is a condition where the pancreas does not produce enough insulin due to the bodyâÄôs immune system attacking the cells inside the pancreas that produces it. The clinical trial will insert mesenchymal stem cells into people who have recently been diagnosed with type-I diabetes. Mesenchymal stem cells, also called adult stem cells, are a kind of stem cell that comes from different types of tissue. Previous studies have suggested that adult stem cells are able to repair or regrow damaged tissue. Nathan hopes that these cells will repair damaged cells that produce insulin in the pancreas. âÄúThe idea behind this is that those mesenchymal stem cells have a number of potentially very beneficial properties,âÄù he said. âÄúThereâÄôs pretty good data about what the capabilities of these cells are.âÄù Steve Hegele was 36 when he was diagnosed with type-I diabetes. Now 42, he is participating in another clinical trial that has already begun at the University. He said that life is a little bit tougher after he was diagnosed with diabetes. âÄúIn addition to the emotional swings up and down, you have energy swings,âÄù he said. âÄúThose two variables have definitely been a change of pace.âÄù The clinical trial that Hegele is participating in looks at the genetics of diabetes, Hegele said. Researchers at the University took blood samples of Hegele, his wife and his daughter shortly after she was born, and they go back to the University for ongoing checkups. Hegele said he participated in the trial to get information about his children and to cope with having the disease. âÄúKnowledge provides a lot of peace of mind for us,âÄù he said. âÄúIt helps us do things with lifestyle and diet to hopefully prevent the onset of diabetes.âÄù According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 23 million people in America have diabetes . It is the fifth-deadliest disease in the United States and nearly 8 percent of the American population has it. It is because of this, Hegele said, that he thinks each diabetes study is a step in the right direction. âÄúI definitely look forward to continuing to be a part of this research and other research that would come along as it relates to diabetes,âÄù he said. âÄúI think the story of diabetes is way, way under told.âÄù Theresa Albright-Fischer is the coordinator of the study. She said she hopes the study will work. âÄúThereâÄôs some data that would indicate that the tissue cells can alter the blood cells so that the auto-immune process might not be as aggressive,âÄù she said. That is basically NathanâÄôs hypothesis. If he is correct, he said, it would make type-I diabetes easier to treat and cope with, but it wouldnâÄôt cure the disease entirely. âÄúIt would make the disease much more tolerable and easier to control,âÄù he said. The studyâÄôs hypothesis is based on previous studies done on diabetic mice, Nathan said. Even though he said he thinks the study will work, this is still only a clinical trial and nothing has been proven yet. âÄúWe have had many, many investigational drugs that have shown promise in the mouse model that have not panned out in the human model,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs certainly not a proven thing.âÄù