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Stem cell transplant can treat type 2 diabetes for six months

7 June 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1098

People who have had type 2 diabetes for less than a decade and have a BMI of less than 23 could benefit from a bone marrow stem cell transplant.

A randomised clinical trial at Vinmec Research Institute of Stem Cell and Gene Technology in Hanoi, Vietnam, investigated the safety and therapeutic potential of administering bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells in 30 adults with type 2 diabetes. The cells were autologous, meaning they were taken from the patient's own body. 

'Our patients tolerated the procedure well and showed short-term reductions in their blood glucose levels after the treatment,' said Professor Nguyen Thanh Liem, the institute's research director and co-lead author of the research. 'We also found that some of them were able to temporarily reduce the dosage of their diabetes medications.'

Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas which controls the absorption of blood glucose into cells for energy production or storage. Diabetes is caused when problems occur with this insulin signalling. Type 2 diabetes most commonly develops in adults, where patients either cannot produce enough insulin to lower blood sugar levels or cannot respond to insulin, which leads to blood sugar levels remaining too high. High blood sugar levels can cause cardiovascular and nerve problems, organ damage and other health problems over time. Increased physical activity and a healthy diet can improve the disease in some patients, but many must take insulin or drugs to control their blood glucose levels.

Stem cells are usually discussed as a viable treatment option for type 1 diabetes, to regenerate the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas that are killed by the body's immune system in that form of diabetes. This research, published in Stem Cells Translational Medicine, set out to investigate the safety and therapeutic benefit of mesenchymal stem cells in treating type 2 diabetes. 

Bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells are able to make and repair tissues such as bone, muscle and fat and have shown to be a promising cell source in the field of regenerative medicine.

Thirty adult patients received two infusions of the cells intravenously or by injection into an artery that supplies blood to the pancreas. Researchers monitored the patients for 48 hours and re-examined them at one month, three month, six month, and one-year intervals. 

No significant problems were detected in the patients' health as a result of the treatment and both infusion methods led to decreased blood glucose levels for up to six months, with more than half of the patients able to reduce their diabetes medication. However, this effect was only seen in patients who had a BMI less than 23 and had type 2 diabetes for less than a decade.

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