March 06, 2015

Adult mesenchymal stem cells are found in bone marrow, peripheral blood, adipose tissue and cord blood. They are multipotent and have the ability to differentiate into many different types of cells.

What is stem cell research finding about these cells and their relationship to fighting diseases? Researchers and medical professionals know these cells have proven beneficial in treating many immune-related diseases, due to its commanding ability to suppress immune responses and generate anti-inflammatory feedback. Diseases where its application are currently being utilized for treatments includes graft vs. host disease, Crohn's disease, and multiple sclerosis, among others. The number of treatable diseases with this type of stem cell is growing too. Researchers are confident that they are on the cusp of adding mesenchymal stem cells as a treatment option for another wide-spread disease here in the United States – type 1 diabetes.

Approximately 80 Americans are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes each day. In those patients, disease-fighting white blood cells behave abnormally and attack the beta cells in the pancreas, destroying body’s ability to produce the much-needed hormone insulin. Type 1 diabetes patients perform a constant, delicate balancing act in regulating their blood sugar and insulin levels. They are dependent for life on injected insulin to regulate their body and are at high risk for developing sudden and devastating complications.

A team of researchers at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Massachusetts is currently testing whether mesenchymal stem cells can have an effective role in treating this life-threatening disease1. Building on knowledge gained in previous studies on the relationship between these stem cells and the disease, the researchers are taking it a bit further. In a previous study conducted with mice, researchers found that intravenously injected mesenchymal stem cells helped regulate sugar levels in the specimen and negated their need for insulin by reducing the pancreatic damage. The effects, though, were mild and temporary. The purpose of the current study is that: by finding a way to make many more of the stem cells grow inside the pancreas, they could effectively cure a patient of the disease. Their way of doing this was to control the homing mechanism in the stem cells and guide them to the diseased area of the pancreas, where the cells would then multiply. The initial results of this study appear promising; the mice that received the IV injection of the engineered stem cells were found to have regulated blood sugar levels without the need for injected insulin. Continued research is necessary to prove this method as effective but, so far, the researchers feel it shows promise as a potential future cure of type 1 diabetes.

Prospective uses for stem cells in the future are immense and encouraging. Cord blood banking allows families to have access to perfectly matched stem cells should their child ever need them for a future transplant, such as with the type 1 diabetes treatment discussed. More in-depth research and new discoveries are proof of the incredible investment choosing cord blood banking is for your family’s future health.

  • Bridger, Haley. (2015) Steering stem cell trafficking into pancreas reverses type 1 diabetes. Brigham and Women's Hospital Communications. Found online http://goo.gl/GVm9xl
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