Speaking of children with diabetes, I'd like to say a bit more about research, and why stem cells matter. No intention of wading into the morally and politically charged quagmire here (When does life begin? How must we treat embryos?); just want to offer a little "primer" for those less familiar with the groundbreaking research going on now.
Simply stated, stem cells are "early stage" cells within an organism that are as-yet undifferentiated, i.e. they have not yet developed the specific functions of eye cells for seeing or heart cells for pumping blood, for example. This is the magic of stem cells: they have the potential to develop into most of the 220 different cell types in the human body. Imagine the healing possibilities! Researchers are making headway in finding ways to 1) produce more stem cells, and 2) cause these cells to develop into desired types of cells that can be used to treat various diseases and disorders.
Their incredible potential for diabetes is, of course, coaxing these cells to grow and develop into insulin-producing cells, thus eliminating the disease (!).
There are two kinds of stem cells —- adult and embryonic (derived from embryos — herein lies the controversy!). As it happens, the embryonic cells are more "robust" and have more potential to form into the various cell types desired. The Iacocca Foundation offers a great one-pager on "Understanding Stem Cells."
Earlier this month, the ADA held its first ever Islet Cell Summit in Chicago, bringing together seven of the world's leading researchers who've received ADA Islet Cell Replacement Research Awards for work on methods to restore the body's ability to produce insulin.
Their methods fall into three categories:
* Genetic engineering of non-pancreatic cells into glucose-sensitive, insulin-producing cells;
* Transforming stem cells or pancreatic ductal cells into insulin producing cells; and
* Transplanting non-human islet cells to restore normal glucose levels in people with diabetes, with particular focus on preventing rejection of these islets by the immune system.
All of which has very exciting potential to move us toward a cure. (Diabetes In Control promises to cover results of the summit soon).
And then there is Dr. Denise Faustman. I may be the last diabetic on the Net to write about her :). See "Cure Mom" Shannon's call to action, for one.
Dr. Faustman, championed by the Iococca Foundation, is working to eliminate the T cells that incorrectly destroy the islet cells. Specifically, she found that injecting a dosage of a bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine actually CURED Type 1 diabetes in mice. This is undoubtedly the MOST EXCITING research to date!! No one else has come close to demonstrating a cure yet.
As Shannon notes, Dr. Faustman's method requires no stem cells, and no drugs other than BCG, which has been used for decades and has no known side effects. I would also ask everyone reading this to click here to support Dr. Faustman's promising research!
Lee Iococca is funding her work, and trying to help her expedite the FDA approvals process for her clinical trials with humans. Click here for an excellent Q&A at Iococca's site explaining details.
Iococca lost his wife to Type 1 diabetes a number of years ago, and has made it his life's goal to help find a cure for the disease. So while he is funding Dr. Faustman, he is also not shunning the possibility that stem cell research may bring that cure. See the "Miracle Cells" article posted at his site.
My point being: it is worthwhile to support any and all legitimate and promising paths to potential cures. Supporters can donate to the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) by clicking here.
Suffice it to say that availability of these cells is critical to various "regenerative" research efforts.