Could your mother’s own cells help to cure your diabetes? A report in the January issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that Mom’s cells mightbe trying, although they’re obviously not succeeding very well. [Maybe Mom just never understood you after all.]
Researchers have known for some time that cells from a mother and a fetus can be exchanged through the circulation. Some of these cells persist for years afterward: for example, you can find male cells in women who have given birth to boys. This is called fetal microchimerism. The fetus also receives cells from the mother, and they also persist, meaning you’re carrying itsy bitsy parts of Mom around for the rest of your life [I wonder what Freud would think of that]. This is called maternal microchimerism.
The chimera was a Greek mythological creature with the head of a lion, the body of a goat and the tail of a serpent. Because the levels of fetal or maternal cells in the other body are small, they’re called microchimeras.
When these phenomena were first discovered, researchers thought that perhaps they contributed to autoimmune diseases. The body is designed to reject “foreign” cells, or non-self. They speculated that perhaps the body was producing antibodies against the foreign maternal cells [“Mom, get outa here!”] and these antibodies then cross-reacted with the body’s own cells, causing autimmune disease.
Now, however, they’re suggesting just the opposite. Perhaps the foreign maternal cells are actually trying to help! In people with type 1 diabetes, who are producing almost no insulin, they’ve discovered maternal beta cells that are producing insulin. Not a lot, but some. [Gotta give Mom credit for trying, at least.] In fact, patients with type 1 diabetes have more of the maternal microchimeras than siblings without diabetes, suggesting that the maternal cells move in when your own cells aren’t doing the job. [Now if she’d just do my vacuuming as well, I’d be happy.]
They found no evidence that the patients’ immune system was attacking the maternal beta cells. At the moment there’s no immediate clinical benefit to be gained from his research, but in the long run there could be. The researchers suggest that the maternal cells might even be trying to repair and regenerate damaged tissue in the pancreas. And if your body has learned to tolerate Mom’s beta cells, it means that perhaps a transplant of maternal cells would survive, although removing beta cells from a living person is extremely dangerous to do.
If you want to read the article yourself, the abstract is here:
Published On: May 12, 2007