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From Sydney, Australia:

I have heard that a recent medical breakthrough is the ability to cultivate "stem cells". Will you please address its relevance to type 1 diabetes?

Also, I am a 29 year old woman with IDDM. I was wondering if it would be sensible for me to have some of my eggs removed now, while they are still in good condition, and frozen for future use with stem cell technology?


For some years now donor bone marrow stem cells have been used as an adjunct to immunosuppressive therapy in islet cell and pancreatic transplantation. In the recent flurry of press releases it has been suggested that cultivated stem cells could be used in lieu of whole organ transplantation, especially for liver cells. The inference has also been that they could be used to develop islet cells for transplantation. This appears to be a commercial venture and little has appeared in the scientific press to substantiate the claims or to provide technical details.

In any case, it is likely to be many years before this approach becomes at all practical.

The technique is of course different from in vitro fertilisation. In the former, a maternal egg is fertilised in vitro and then reimplanted; it thus contains both maternal and paternal genes. In the production of stem cells the ovum is enucleated and a donor nucleus substituted, rather the same procedure that was used to clone the sheep Dolly in Scotland. It is claimed that early dividing cells can then be programmed along specific organ lines.

It would not be necessary to try to conserve your own ova because in more recent reports it has been shown that the stem cells can be cultured for a human cell nucleus in a bovine ovum. Even if all of this was to prove successful, there would still be the problem of immunoprotection of any specialised islet cells that had been derived from the stem cells.

Another more esoteric point is that the energy supply mechanisms in cells are supplied by small cytoplasmic organelles called mitochondria. These derive from the mother so it remains to be seen how genetically human cells would fare with cow mitochondria.


Original posting 17 Jan 1999
Posted to Research: Cure


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