Diabetes and Stem Cells Research
Type I diabetes, commonly diagnosed during childhood, is a condition in which the body does not produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is used in the body to process glucose by transporting it from blood into cells. Consequently, the disease is marked by chronically high blood glucose levels that over time lead to other health problems such as retinopathy (and blindness), heart disease and neuropathy.
While the cause of Type I diabetes is not completely understood, it is know that the insulin shortage is caused by an autoimmune process in which the body's immune system destroys the beta cells, the insulin producing cells of the pancreas. The cells are actually spread all over the pancreas in clusters called the "islets of Langerhans" or just Islets.
The treatment of diabetes involves the monitoring of blood glucose levels and the injection of insulin to enable the body to process ingested carbohydrates. While diabetes management has progressed, it is far from the ideal case in which the pancreas is restored to proper operation.
Several researchers, with limited success, have transplanted Islet cells from one individual to another [more]. However, a number of obstacles and risks remain including the necessary suppression of the patient's immune system through drug therapy and a scarcity of Islet cell donors.
In an exciting development last year, researchers involved with Islet cell transplantation reported finding pancreatic stem cells in mice [more]. This generated considerable interest because it anticipated a similar discovery in humans and provided a potential Islet source for treatment of diabetes.
Recently, a team of doctors in Argentina has pioneered a new technique for treating diabetes using adult stem cells that could represent a breakthrough in confronting this chronic disease. [more]
It was the first time that the procedure had been used to treat diabetes, and the doctors confirmed that the patient's pancreas, which had ceased to produce insulin, began to function again as a result of the treatment.
In an interesting portion of the article, Saslavsky contrasted a few of the benefits of using the patient's own stem cells to embryonic stem cell research, in which a human embryo is killed to obtain the necessary cells. The obvious advantages of the former versus the latter are that it does not destroy a life and seems to have worked.
When asked why there seems to be a far greater emphasis worldwide on embryonic stem cell research as opposed to adult stem cell research, Saslavsky suggested the reason could be economic.
By contrast, the procedure for using adult stem cells from the same patient is much simpler and thus far less expensive, as it is limited to the cost of the catheters used to extract the bone marrow and inject the stem cells and the reagents needed to harvest them..
Culturally, we look for miracle cures that promise a solution to life's trials and are willing to pour money into them. We want medical breakthroughs and want them now. When scientists suggest that ESC could cure paralysis, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, blindness, heart disease, and numerous other chronic diseases, the public willingly follows. In fact, special interest groups will rally supporters to demand that the government get involved for the good of mankind.
In addition, scientists, and people in general, seem to have a fascination with "creating life" and controlling it. The desire to "be like gods" has motivated man since the first sin was committed by Adam and Eve. The desire to control the inception and development of life certainly parallels the original sin and motivates individuals to step over moral boundaries.
Embryonic stem cell research fits these two categories well and, fueled by those willing to exploit the issue for political gain, has been effectively marketed and funded. Although many researchers are altruistic, all require money and must market their ideas by providing suitable scenarios to fit the expectations and desires of the funders.
Posted January 12, 2005 12:24 AM