A pregnant woman holding a small electronic device for diabetes.

Stem Cell Treatments for Diabetes

A quick search for stem cell treatments for diabetes yields dozens of results for clinical trials, which is exciting news – it’s important to know that leading researchers from around the world are dedicated to unlocking the power of stem cells to help treat a condition that affects so many people. These trials, addressing both Type I and Type II diabetes, are attempting to both directly treat the condition itself as well as help to mitigate negative symptoms.

Treating Type I and Type II Diabetes

Most of the trials seeking to directly treat the condition are focused upon Type I, or juvenile, diabetes. A trial at the Medical University of South Carolina, in collaboration with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), is using umbilical cord tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells from donors in hopes that their proven ability to suppress the immune and inflammatory response can be applied to Type I, which is also an autoimmune condition. The trial was started in 2019 and will run until 2023, as it measures efficacy over the course of a year for each participant.

A similar trial, conducted by Swedish cell therapy company NextCell, is entering its third phase. NextCell uses the same type of stem cells from umbilical cord tissue and conducted their Phase I and II trials in collaboration with Karolinska University Hospital and Uppsala University, which determined the trials were safe for further study. Initial results suggest exciting potential to help protect participants’ insulin production, which could prove monumental for the treatment of the condition.

Although many trials focus on Type I, there are also a number of trials seeking to directly treat Type II diabetes. A new trial from Shanghai is also using mesenchymal stem cells from the umbilical cord, as well as a lifestyle education period and heavy screening to attempt to control for variables that could impact the ability to properly assess both the safety and the efficacy of the trial. The goal of the trial is for the stem cells to help the body stabilize blood sugar levels over time as measured by the hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) test. Positive results could lead to updated treatment needs, including a reduced insulin requirement.

An ongoing trial in Vietnam also uses mesenchymal stem cells, alongside stem cells taken from the participant’s own bone marrow, and is expected to be completed in 2020. Preliminary data to determine efficacy is not yet available, but researchers are testing participants on a number of measures, including blood sugar levels one month, three months, and six months after stem cells are administered in order to determine effects over time.

Treating Symptoms of Diabetes

Other clinical trials are seeking better treatments to provide care for people who experience negative symptoms of diabetes. Perhaps the most notable trial is underway at the Mayo Clinic, where researchers are taking mesenchymal stem cells (in this instance, derived from the trial participant’s own adipose tissue) and using them for treatment of progressive diabetic kidney disease (DKD), a potentially serious condition that can be caused by both types of diabetes. Kidney function will be measured at six and twelve months after intervention.

The Takeaways for Parents

Like many conditions being targeted for treatment with stem cells, the potential is very real, but has not yet yielded a guaranteed method for treatment. Although developments take time, we look at that as exciting news, as researchers around the world are still only just beginning to uncover just how valuable stem cells can be. We do know that there are safe clinical trials being conducted that are particularly promising for the treatment of Type I diabetes as well as some for the symptoms of both Type I and Type II diabetes.

The mesenchymal stem cells that can be derived from umbilical cord and placental tissue that are at the center of many of these trials are also a genetic match to other family members, including siblings and parents. As diabetes is a condition that not only affects close to 20,000 children each year, but also thousands of adults, breakthroughs could further increase the value of cord tissue and placental tissue banking.

This is also not an exhaustive summary of clinical trials attempting to treat diabetes, but instead a highlight of a few demonstrating promise. There are further trials in North America, Europe, and Asia that are still recruiting new participants and could very well provide valuable learnings for the treatment of this condition.


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