Diabetes is a group of diseases characterized by high levels of blood glucose resulting from defects in insulin production, insulin action, or both. Insulin is a cellular protein that regulates glucose levels in the blood.
Type 1 diabetes is often called “juvenile diabetes” because it generally appears during childhood or adolescence. It develops when the body’s immune system mistakenly destroys the insulin-producing islet cells of the pancreas, a small gland behind the stomach. As a result, the body is unable to properly utilize energy in food or control sugar levels in the blood stream.
Type 1 diabetics must endure many painful insulin injections each day in order to live and function normally. A handful of patients have been treated by pancreatic islet cell transplants, using islet cells from human cadavers. However, there are not enough transplantable cells to treat the many people who have this condition. Scientists believe stem cells could help solve this problem by providing a way to create healthy new islet cells for diabetes patients.
Type 2 diabetes usually begins as insulin resistance, a disorder in which the cells do not use insulin properly. As the need for insulin rises, the pancreas gradually loses its ability to produce insulin. This type of diabetes usually occurs later in life, affecting 90% of patients with diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is associated with older age, obesity, family history of diabetes, physical inactivity, and race/ethnicity. African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Native Americans, and some Asian Americans, Native Hawaiian, or other Pacific Islanders are at particularly high risk for type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is also increasingly being diagnosed in children and adolescents. Current treatment includes using diabetes medicines, making wise food choices, exercising regularly, taking aspirin daily, and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol.
Diabetes can lead to many serious long-term health problems and early
death. It can cause blindness, kidney failure, and severe problems
involving the gums and teeth. It can also cause nerve damage and blood
flow problems that result in impaired sensation or pain in the feet
or hands and amputation of limbs. One of the most serious problems
caused by diabetes is heart disease. People who have diabetes are
more than twice as likely to develop heart disease or a stroke as
people without diabetes.
Human and Social Costs
Over 18 million people in the United States, or 6.3% of the population, have diabetes. Over 1 million new cases are diagnosed every year.
Diabetes was the sixth leading cause of death listed on U.S. death certificates in 2000, but the total deaths cause by diabetes are probably under reported because it ultimately causes other health problems that may be listed as the cause of death. The American Diabetes Association estimates that diabetes contributes to over 200,000 deaths annually nationwide.
In 2000, a total of 129,183 people with diabetes underwent dialysis or kidney transplantation.
About 60% to 70% of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of nervous system damage. The results of such damage include, slowed digestion of food in the stomach, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other nerve problems.
It’s estimated that diabetes costs Americans a total of $132
billion annually, including $92 billion in direct medical costs and
$40 billion in costs related to disability, work loss and premature
The Potential for Stem Cell Cures and Therapies
Because the transplantation of insulin-producing islet cells into patients is already known to reverse the most damaging symptoms of Type 1 diabetes, stem cell research holds exciting prospects for improving the treatment of this disease. Unfortunately, the number of islet cells available for this transplant procedure is too small to treat the over 1 million Type 1 diabetics in this country.
Stem cells, which have the unique potential to form any cell in the body, could be used to expand the supply of islet cells needed for these transplants. U.S. researchers have already found that stem cell transplants can successfully treat diabetes in mice. Additional research with human stem cells will be needed to extend this therapy to people suffering from Type 1 diabetes.
It is also possible that stem cells could be used to help alleviate or repair some of the health problems caused by Type 2 diabetes.
That’s why many families who have members suffering from diabetes
and groups like the American Diabetes Association, Diabetes Research
Institute, and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation strongly support
stem cell research – and have endorsed the California Stem Cell
Research and Cures Initiative.
PARTIAL LIST OF SOURCES:
American Diabetes Association
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
The Diabetes Research Institute
"Stem Cell Research: Recent Progress." The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
"Lecture Explores Diabetes Epidemic, Treatments." University
of California, San Francisco. - http://pub.ucsf.edu/today/news.php?news_id=200404061
"Stem Cells at Work: Diabetes." Stem Cell Network.
"UCSD Scientists Successfully Grow Insulin-Secreting Cells To Treat Diabetes." ScienceDaily.com
"Stanford researchers...pave way for stem-cell approach to diabetes treatment." Stanford Hospital & Clinics.
"Study finds insulin cells self-renewing." CNN.com - http://www.cnn.com/2004/HEALTH/conditions/05/06/insulin.cells.reut/
Publications Demonstrating Proof-of-Concept for Stem Cell Treatments for Diabetes
- Shapiro AM. Rajotte RV. Islet transplantation in seven patients with type 1 diabetes mellitus using a glucocorticoid-free immunosuppressive regimen. New England Journal of Medicine (2000) 343: 230-238