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July 5, 2002

Research: Cure

Question from Michigan, USA:

I have just read your answer regarding cord blood and stem cell treatment, and I know that in the Dominican Republic, they are doing stem cell infusions using embryonic stem cells from abortions. It costs $25,000 and has seen great results in my area in a two year old who had a stroke from surgery. There are no follow up studies of drugs for this, just the one-half hour transfusions. It makes me very sad that only the rich can afford this. Is there any place to obtain fetal cell stem cells? I have had type 1 diabetes for 15 years and my 10 year old was just diagnosed.

Answer:

Cord blood stem cells from a genetically related sibling can be life-saving for certain hereditary anemias; but they are already slightly differentiated and cannot with present technics be grown into insulin producing cells. This may change, but research in the USA is at the moment hampered by Congressional legislation.

The very best thing that you can do for your ten year old is, with the help of him/her diabetes care team, to keep him/her in the best possible control by taking advantage of the new insulins and new ways of measuring blood sugars.

DOB
Additional comments from Dr. Camillo Ricordi:

The only thing that I could add is to suggest that you try to get into one of the trials for islet cell transplants. They are coordinated by the Immune Tolerance Network, which is currently updating its web site. There is a lot of research to make insulin producing cells from stem cells, but nothing that works clinically yet, and I do not believe there is anything behind the corner as well.

I do not know enough on this initiative from the Dominican Republic, but for sure it is not applicable to diabetes. In anemias, you are dealing with reconstitution of the hematopoietic system (blood components) and stem cells can indeed work in this setting, but not for diabetes… not yet.

CR
Additional comments from David Mendosa, A Writer on the Web:

The only thing that I could add is to suggest that you try to get into one of the trials for islet cell transplants. They are coordinated by the Immune Tolerance Network, which is currently updating its web site.

DM