Health Guide March 03, 2006
Except for the scammers, everyone knows that there’s no cure for diabetes. If you search Google for “cure diabetes” you will find dozens of ways to waste your money.
Some people can control their diabetes so well that it goes into remission. “If a physician were to put me through a series of medical tests, he would probably conclude that I was not a diabetic,” writes Bruce Gould in his new book, “How I Conquered Diabetes". Yet, he says, “once a diabetic, always a diabetic.” So far, that is correct.
Other people get pancreas or islet cell transplants that let them trade a life of trying to control diabetes for one of immunosuppressive drugs every day to prevent rejection. Deb Butterfield got a pancreas transplant and calls herself “a former diabetic.” However, her doctor, David Sutherland, write in the foreword to Deb’s book, Showdown with Diabetes, that pancreas transplants “cannot cure diabetes.”
But in the next few years we probably will have a cure for diabetes. It will come from a controversial scientific advance made fewer than 10 years ago.
In 1998 scientists discovered how to isolate and grow embryonic stem cells. These cells have the ability to divide for indefinite periods in culture and to give rise to specialized cells. For people with diabetes the specialized cells that we need are the dead or dying beta cells in the pancreas.
We are actually lucky that we have diabetes rather than some rare disease. Worldwide, about 194 million people have diabetes, according to the International Diabetes Federation. That makes diabetes a terribly tempting target for anyone interested in fame, fortune or the opportunity to help mankind.
And many scientists are already hard at work on finding a cure for diabetes through embryonic stem cell research. I used to think that people with type 2 diabetes would not benefit from this research, because it is a “two hit disease”. I call it that because type 2s have both beta-cell dysfunction and insulin resistance.
New beta cells will cure type 2 as well as type 1 diabetes, but for type 2s insulin resistance will remain. Potentially, it could burn out beta cells again. But, thinking far ahead, another dose of beta cells could reverse diabetes once more.
In fact, there is a recent – albeit unconfirmed – report from Argentina indicating that stem cell transplants have already cured people with type 2. Researchers from the Fernandez Viña Foundation in Buenos Aires presented an abstract of this study, “L386 First Reported Datas [sic] from Argentina of Implant and Cellular Therapy in Patients with Diabetes Type 2 (TECELDIAB Study)” at the 45th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in December. Of 16 people with type 2 in the study, the report indicates that 84 percent of them are cured.
Whether the research in Argentina can be duplicated on a large scale or not, it is likely that people with diabetes will find embryonic stems cells in their future. This work is continuing in spite of religious objections that some people have. Eventually, each of us may have to decide whether to avail ourselves of the opportunity to be cured.