Diabetic patients from deficiencies in insulin, a hormone that is critical for regulating blood sugar levels. Researchers have recently shown how combining mesenchymal stem cells with bone marrow cells can induce the regeneration of cells that secrete insulin and thereby restore normal levels of blood sugar and blood insulin.
The insulin deficiency that occurs in diabetes differs based on the type of diabetes that a patient has. In type 1 diabetes, cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, known as beta-cells, are destroyed, preventing the normal production and secretion of insulin. In type 2 diabetes, however, insulin is still produced and secreted, but insulin sensitivity is reduced, meaning that the body does not respond properly to the presence of insulin in the blood. In both cases, there is a reduction in the number of properly functioning beta-cells.
Previous research has shown that adult bone marrow contains cells that can enhance the regeneration of beta-cells in diabetes. However, the findings have been countered by other studies that have not found this effect. In the current study, researchers aimed to determine whether bone marrow cells that are injected in combination with mesenchymal stem cells could increase the amount of functional beta-cells in diabetes. The scientists were also interested in whether any increase in functional Beta cells that may be observed as a result of this intervention would have the practical effect of restoring normal blood insulin and blood glucose levels in diabetes.
Though injecting just bone marrow cells or just mesenchymal stem cells did not impact beta-cell number or blood insulin or blood glucose levels, the combination of the two did. After a single injection, researchers observed tissue regeneration. Importantly, the new beta-cells were generated by the recipient, as no donor beta-cells were identified in recipients. Thus, the bone marrow cell and stem cell combination did not simply replace cells but instead instigated the regeneration of cells. Further, because blood insulin and blood glucose levels were restored after these injections, the newly generated beta-cells were not only present but also functional.
Another positive outcome of this procedure was that there was no immune response initiated against the new beta-cells, suggesting that these cells could survive in the long-term. These findings show the tremendous promise that stem cells have, especially when strategically combined with other interventions, to diabetes therapy.