Adult stem cells, diabetes and the media Posted by: McQ
on Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Some good news on the medical front concerning adult stem cells and Type I diabetes:
Diabetics using stem-cell therapy have been able to stop taking insulin injections for the first time, after their bodies started to produce the hormone naturally again.
In a breakthrough trial, 15 young patients with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes were given drugs to suppress their immune systems followed by transfusions of stem cells drawn from their own blood.
The results show that insulin-dependent diabetics can be freed from reliance on needles by an injection of their own stem cells.
Now, of course, I emphasize the last portion of the 3rd paragraph for a reason. That is how, reading this report, I discovered they were adult stem cells. Nowhere in the story is that made clear.
And it is an excellent and very encouraging story for those who have Type I diabetes. You should read how they were prepared for the stem cell therapy, etc. In fact, read the whole thing.
But again, the reason I'm pointing out the type of stem cell used is because by not mentioning it, they were able to turn the news story of a great medical breakthrough into an opportunity to editorialize on a subject not even germane to the development:
But research using the most versatile kind of stem cells — those acquired from human embryos — is currently opposed by powerful critics, including President Bush.
Really? Well, what has that to do with the UK, where the story is focused and which has no such prohibition that I'm aware of, and what has it to do with a story about a successful study which used adult stem cells?
In people who suffer from type I diabetes, the cells of the pancreas that normally produce insulin are destroyed by the patient's own immune system. New studies indicate that it may be possible to direct the differentiation of human embryonic stem cells in cell culture to form insulin-producing cells that eventually could be used in transplantation therapy for diabetics.
Yet where was the actual breakthrough made? With adult stem cells.
In an accompanying editorial in JAMA, Dr Jay Skyler, of the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami, wrote: “Research in this field is likely to explode in the next few years and should include randomised controlled trials, as well as mechanistic studies."
Yes it is. It is going to further explode in the area where a majority of the money is now going ... adult stem cell research. Because, you see, it is that area in which the most advances are being made. Like this one.
Disclaimer: I'm not here to argue the conservative position that destroying embryos for stem cell research is tantamount to murder. I don't buy it to begin with.
I'd argue that the market (big surprise, right?) should decide what to fund and not politicians (if you're interested in the games politicians are playing on the subject, try this). I just thought it was interesting that I had to hunt to determine the type of stem cells which were used. I was further amused to see the inclusion of the embryonic stem cell sentence when, in fact, those stem cells had absolutely no part in this study. Call it a case study in media bias.
I'm sure that someone will find a way to try to argue that even given those two things, bias still isn't evident in the article.
For this type of diabetes, the patients insulin producing cells were being damaged by the patient’s own immune system. The researchers destroyed the patient’s developed immune system. Then the adult stem cells were used to replace the patient’s immune system using stem cells from the patient’s bone marrow. Something that has been done for some time (bone marrow transplants are actually stem cell transplants).
There’s subtle implication that the insulin producing cells were somehow helped out by the infusion of immune system stem cells. However, those cells are known to rebound when the source of damage is removed and lifestyle changes are made.
This is new variation on bone marrow transplants and not actually restoring the patient’s insulin producing cells directly through stem cells. Something that would be required for a full blown type I diabetic.