Stem cell therapy
- It feels as if we’re at a point where much better ways to treat both Type 1 and 2 diabetes are on the tip of our tongue.
- With regards to Type 1, a disease that affects 10 per cent of those with diabetes, there’s some amazing research happening now. Because it’s a condition where the person’s own immune system attacks the pancreas (meaning the body can no longer control the levels of glucose in the blood), an artificial pancreas is now being developed.
- This device will be worn outside the body and will do all the calculations a patient normally does, before automatically delivering their insulin when needed into the body via a pump. It could be available within the next 10 years.
- Type 2 diabetes – when the body stops responding to insulin so can no longer control glucose levels in the blood – affects the other 90 per cent who live with diabetes. It’s caused by lifestyle choices such as diet, so we’re looking at introducing a special intensive low-calorie weight management plan diet to put it into remission.
- Longer term, we know that people with Type 2 who have bariatric (weight loss) surgery find the condition goes into remission. It looks as if it’s not only caused by the weight they lose. It may have something to do with gut hormones changing, so researchers are looking at a therapy to replicate what happens after bariatric surgery without actually doing the surgery. This is very much a long- term project, probably over 10 years in the future.
- Researchers are also looking at a potential cure for diabetes. They’re looking at the beta cells, which are the cells in the pancreas that the immune system attacks. We can replace those cells using an islet transplant. But they rely on donated pancreases, which aren’t easily come by. Longer term we’re looking at stem-cell therapy. Here we could make beta cells from scratch in the lab, doing away with pancreas donations.
- We’re also looking to see if we can coat these beta cells with a protective outside so when you transplant them, they’re safe from the immune system. If we could replace damaged cells and protect them, then we’re looking at a cure for Type 1 diabetes. It might not happen in the next 10 years, but it’s not pure blue-sky thinking. Research is progressing at speed. We’re seeing some really incredible results to benefit people in the future with diabetes.