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October 7, 2003

Research: Cure

Question from Buffalo, New York, USA:

Could our newborn's cord blood could be used for our three and half year old diabetic son some day?


I would have to say that cord blood stem cell transplantation as a cure for type 1A (autoimmune) diabetes still looks a very long way off indeed, although one should not say ‘never’. At present, the best prospect for relief from repeated injections and blood sampling would seem to be a stable and semipermanent glucose sensor that can be safely linked to the insulin pump controls. Islet cell transplantation works but is hampered by two major problems which are the lack of donors and the need for permanent immunosuppression. There are a number of promising hopes though for some kind of surrogate insulin producing cells including islets from neonatal pigs as well as genetically engineered cells and the problems of immunosuppression are very close to a solution.

Having said all this, if the expense is supportable, and it is important to you and your wife to feel personally involved, then perhaps you should save the cord blood cells which you can always decide to use or discard at a later date, and it just may turn out to be the right thing to have done.