A small Chinese study has reported that 15 of 28 young type 1 patients, aged 14 to 30 years, who underwent an experimental adult stem cell procedure were able to stay off insulin injections for an average of 18 months. Though not conclusive, the study highlights an interesting avenue of research that could eventually dramatically reduce insulin dependence among type 1s.
The patients were enrolled in the study by researchers at Ruijin Hospital in Shanghai, China, an institution that has been conducting extensive research into both embryonic and adult stem cells.
The procedure used on the young patients involved two steps. First, in an experimental treatment called autologous nonmyeloablative hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, the patients received drugs designed to stimulate their production of blood stem cells. The cells were then set aside and frozen.
Next, the researchers administered drugs designed to kill the immune system cells that attack insulin-producing pancreatic cells in type 1s. Once that was done, the blood stem cells were unfrozen and injected into the patients. The immature cells lacked the destructive programming of the immune cells they replaced.
The results were very encouraging. More than half of the patients were able to quit insulin use for significant periods of time, including eight who have gone two years without needing insulin injections and one who has gone 42 months without an insulin shot.
Among the side effects of the immune-system suppressing drugs were bone marrow suppression, hair loss, fever, nausea, vomiting, and low white blood cell counts. According to the Chinese researchers, however, most side effects were gone after four weeks, and none of the 28 patients developed an infection.
An abstract of the study is available.
My 16-year-old son and I spent the day together recently and decided to head out for burgers at lunchtime. Sitting in a rather exposed booth at a restaurant, we chatted and began eating. I wasn’t really thinking about anything, just enjoying the rare moment of hanging out with my sweet son, when he remarked, “I’d feel so awkward if I had to do that.” I asked him what he meant and actually looked around to see what he was talking about. Then it hit me, as he mimed taking an injection and said, “Having to take shots in front of random people all the time.” Moments before, I had taken a shot in my hip, capped my syringe, and popped it back into my handbag without even thinking about it. After 18 years of shots, it’s practically instinct for me.
I know he meant it with a good heart. He wasn’t embarrassed by me, but, rather, worried about how he’d feel if he had diabetes. I explained to him that I used to feel so awkward about taking my shots that I would literally hide from people to do it. But eventually I realized that I had done nothing wrong and that I am not ashamed of having diabetes. I also told him that diabetes is a part of me and will be forever. “It’s the way I am,” I said. He nodded and returned to talking about a school friend of his as we finished our burgers.
Still, his comment made me wonder about how other people in my family feel about my shots. I decided to ask for complete and utter honesty from my husband. My question to him was “How do you feel for me when we are out in public and I take a shot?” My husband told me that he doesn’t think anything about it. “It’s just a part of who you are,” he told me. “You have green eyes and diabetes.” When I pressed him about how he felt when he first met me, he said, “The only time I felt weird was when we were on our first date and I tried pushing you to have some of the super-sugary coffee drink I was having. When you said you had diabetes, I regretted having pressured you. Now I know better, and I don’t think about it at all.” It makes me happy to know that he looks at diabetes as just another part of me, like my eye color, and not at all like I have something wrong with me.
When I was 18, I never would have taken a shot in front of other people. I was mortified that I was different. Today I feel a sense of strength when I take my shots. I know that I’m different, but honestly, different isn’t always a bad thing. We are different in that we need to be brave and strong each and every day, with no breaks. I still remember those early days of trying to fit in with the other teens, but now that I’m all grown up, I think that being ordinary is highly overrated.
“In most cases its either curiosity or well-meaning people attempting to offer advice and support but from a diabetic’s perspective this is often not well received. You often feel like the diabetic police are watching your every move just to point out something you shouldn’t be doing.
Well there is a couple of ways to respond and I think I would like to offer some advice about how to love a diabetic from a diabetic’s perspective”