Cord Blood May Help Kids With Diabetes
Study Shows Kids' Own Banked Cord Blood Slows Type 1 Diabetes
June 25, 2007 (Chicago) -- Infusions of cord blood infusions seem to help
kids with type 1 diabetes -- apparently by partially reversing the misguided
immune system attack that is the keystone of the disease.
The experimental treatment is being tested by University of Florida
researchers Desmond A. Schatz, MD, medical director of the University of
Florida diabetes center, and Michael J. Haller, MD, assistant professor of
So far, they've treated 11 kids ranging in age from 2 1/2 to 10 years. They
reported the six-month results from the first eight of these kids at the
American Diabetes Association's 67th Annual Scientific Sessions, held June
22-26 in Chicago.
"This approach is outside the box," Schatz said at a news
conference. "It is the first cellular therapy where we are using the
patient's own cells -- cells that are naive to the environmental insult that
may trigger the disease."
Schatz and Haller compared the results of cord-blood treatment to results
for 18 kids who received current state-of-the-art treatment for their type 1
diabetes. Children who got cord blood showed signs of reduced immune
Most importantly, the cord-blood treatment seems to have slowed the loss of
insulin-making pancreatic beta cells -- a process Schatz calls "pancreatic
"Kids who used cord blood had half of the insulin requirement of kids
getting standard therapy," Haller said at the news conference. "This
implies that kids who got cord blood made some insulin on their own."
Cord Blood Not a Type 1 Diabetes Cure
It's not a cure. Both Schatz and Haller expect that these children
eventually will lose the ability to make insulin as their disease progresses.
But they stress that the extra insulin-making time the kids gained will have
How does it work? That's not yet clear. Stem cells from cord blood may
well be traveling to the pancreas, where they might help regenerate the
insulin-making cells of the pancreas.
Schatz and Haller favor the theory that the stem cells contain what
researchers call regulatory T cells -- the quarterbacks of the immune system.
The new cells, they suggest, try to halt out-of-control, anti-self immune
Unlike cord-blood treatment for life-threatening autoimmune disease and
cancer, where harsh and risky chemicals are used to kill off existing immune
cells or cancer cells, the diabetes treatment is a simple infusion of cord
That is likely to change as researchers become more confident in the
technique -- and start looking for ways to get the immune system to become more
tolerant of insulin-producing cells.
"We ultimately will have to add immune suppression," Schatz says.
"The solution to reversing diabetes will require a cocktail approach. It
will require a way of achieving tolerance, of restoring regenerative cells, and
then giving enough cells back to reverse the process. Until we move to that era
the progress will be slow."
Why not try that now? Schatz says that type 1 diabetes may eventually have
devastating effects, but with insulin treatment, it is not an immediate threat
to the life of a child.
"Diabetes is not cancer. It is not OK to have a mortality rate of 3%,
which does occur with many of these transplants," he says. "We are very
confident that some of these studies may come to fruition. But for now, from
our perspective, the dictum of 'first, do no harm' has to be premium."