Stem Cells in the Treatment of Diabetes Essay

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Stem Cells in the Treatment of Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus affects 18 million people in the U.S. alone (8.7% of the population) and more than 190 million worldwide. The prevalence of diabetes has increased alarmingly in the past three decades and, corresponding to global dietary and lifestyle trends, is projected to nearly double in the next ten years (1). Although diabetes can be treated, serious complications from improperly managed diabetes are common and can lead to death. Recent reports suggest that one of the most promising potential treatments may come from the use of stem cells, undifferentiated cells that can be coaxed into becoming insulin-producing islet-like cells that reduce diabetes symptoms in mice (2).

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One promising novel treatment for type I diabetes is pancreatic islet cell transplantation, but this therapy is limited by the number and availability of donated organs for transplant. If stem cells can be induced to differentiate into functional islet cells in the lab, they may form a renewable source for transplantation, allowing this cell-based treatment to become available on a practical scale (3, 4).

Stem cells are self-renewing, unspecialized cells that give rise to multiple specialized cell types through a process of differentiation. Theoretically, stem cells could be induced in the laboratory to become any specialized body cell type, including pancreatic islet cells, and then transplanted back into a patient to replace diseased or damaged tissue (2). Transplantation of stem cells or stem-cell derived tissue into human patients has not yet reached the clinical level, however, and many questions remain regarding the safety and efficacy of such therapies.

In order to better gauge the therapeutic potential of stem cells, much basic research and animal model testing is currently being conducted. Scientists have focused on stem cells from two sources: early-stage embryos and

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