Diabetes is a global epidemic that affects almost 3% of the world’s population. Many people with diabetes eventually develop heart, nerve, and kidney damage that can require long-term, expensive care. Stem cells offer a promising approach for producing many cell types needed to replace damaged cells that cause numerous disorders. Diabetes is a disease long thought to be amenable to stem cell therapy because the disease is caused by the loss of the single type of cell that produces insulin and, therefore, might be cured by providing insulin-producing cells made in the laboratory.
The uterus contains numerous stem cells needed to make the new cells that replenish the uterine lining every month. Researchers, including those supported through the Pediatric Growth and Nutrition Branch, took this rich source of stem cells and added various nutrients and growth factors that caused the cells to “differentiate” into insulin-producing cells. These cells were injected into a diabetic mouse model where they secreted insulin and stabilized blood glucose levels. Mice injected with control cells had high blood glucose levels, lost weight, and developed eye problems--conditions that develop in human diabetics if their blood glucose is not properly controlled.
This impressive example of stem cell-based therapy suggests that women could successfully be treated for diabetes or other disorders using cells from the lining of the uterus. Such research is an excellent example of the potential of stem cell therapy to effectively address major, chronic disorders. (PMID: 21878900)