Researchers at Utah-based Optimum Clinical Research have completed a study to determine whether stem cells could reverse the effects of Type 1 diabetes. The primary aim of the three-year study was to research whether the infusion of mesenchymal stem cells into the body could rejuvenate insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Type 1 diabetes destroys the insulin-producing beta cells.
The stem cells used in the study were derived from bone marrow. The cells were not taken from human embryos, which is a practice many people abhor. “Embryonic stem cells are old news, out of fashion and obsolete,” said Jared Shields, a clinical research facilitator at Salt Lake City-based Optimum Clinical Research, the firm conducting the study. When infused into the body the stem cells nudge up against damaged tissue and “listen for chemical signals that let them know where they are needed,” Shields said. “The stem cells have their own set of programming for what they’re supposed to do and where they’re supposed to be,” Shields said. “We think this is probably a new frontier in medicine.” Study participants needed to be between 18 and 35 years old and diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes within 12 weeks of the start of the research. The trial was small in Utah because the rigid requirements meant that only one person, a Colorado father of two, qualified for the study. Thirty-year-old Christopher Herod said he jumped at the opportunity to possibly help find a cure for the disease after he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes a few years ago. “It’s been very stressful,” Herod said. With no cure in sight, Herod, an athletic man with a muscular build, must poke his finger six times a day to monitor his blood sugar. He could die if the level of insulin in his body increases or drops too significantly. As researchers wait for the results of the diabetes study, Herod, a coal miner, said he just hopes to be around as his two sons get older. “I want to be there for my family,” Herod said.
He has driven from Craig, CO. many times in the past few years to receive stem-cell therapy in Salt Lake City. “My family helps me tremendously,” Herod said. “Somebody has always come with me. I have never come alone.” The stem cells injected into Herod needed to become insulin-producing beta cells for the effects of his Type 1 diabetes to be reversed. “It’s obvious that some of them have become beta cells,” Shields said. “The fact that [Herod] has felt better and he has been able to be more active, we think is successful.” Since much is unknown about Type 1 diabetes, Shields said “this is one of those studies that could change the course of medicine.” “It’s an unforgiving disease. Its goes after the beta cells in the pancreas and it just doesn’t stop,” he said. The stem cell study involved about 30 people nationwide.