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September 23, 2003

Research: Cure

Question from Buffalo, New York, USA:

We have no family history of diabetes, but our three and a half year old son was diagnosed at the age of 13 months. He has a healthy five year old brother, and we are expecting a third son in a few months. Would you recommend saving the cord blood from our new baby for stem cells?

Answer:

The answer, according to our expert here, is still no. To begin with there is the not inconsiderable expense, and the fact that your next child will have only about a 1:20 risk of developing type 1A (autoimmune) diabetes at some stage before he/she is 20 years old. It used to be argued that bone marrow stem cells were mesodermal and would be unlikely to develop into insulin-producing cells which are endodermal, but this obstacle seems to have been overcome at least at the level of the laboratory animal. Besides all this, the technology has yet to be demonstrated in humans and finally of course as scientists are coming to understand the intricacies of islet cell development much more fully there are going to be many other opportunities to avert insulin dependent diabetes in the next few years.

DOB