Stem Cells: Are They the Cure for Diabetes?

With this many people affected, or potentially affected, our country’s healthcare resources will be crippled by the long term complications diabetes causes. A possible, albeit controversial, cure for diabetes could come from stem cell research. Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the glucose in the blood is elevated. There are two main types of diabetes: type 1, or insulin dependent diabetes, and type 2, non-insulin dependent diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body perceives its own cells as foreign invaders and attacks them.

The islet cells of the increase, which produce and secrete insulin, are destroyed. The body needs insulin to supply the cells with energy and since insulin can no longer get into the cell, glucose accumulates in the blood. The only treatment for this is insulin injections or the use of an insulin pump. However, it is important to note that this is not a cure. Insulin brings with it its own set of problems such as injecting too much or not enough insulin, injecting too far in advance of a meal, and the sheer inconvenience of carrying supplies around and going into unclean bathrooms to inject.

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This type of diabetes is usually diagnosed in holding or young adulthood and happens quite suddenly. Type 2 diabetes is more of a gradual onset, normally occurring in older adults, although more and more children are now being diagnosed with it also, due to poor eating habits, lack of exercise and childhood obesity. The pancreas produces insulin, but the body does not use it correctly or becomes resistant to it. This type of diabetes is usually treated with diet and exercise, but may require medication or insulin to bring the blood sugar down to normal.

Insulin is used as the last resort for many type 2 diabetics. Diabetes is a lethal disease because of the implications it can cause. In his book Think Like a Pancreas, Gary Schneider explains the complications of diabetes. Excess sugar in the bloodstream sticks to protein and cells and keeps them from performing their functions. It also damages the smooth lining of the blood vessels, which can eventually lead to hardening and clogging of the arteries. It is the leading cause of blindness and kidney failure. It damages nerve fibers and impairs circulation.

In addition, heart disease and stroke are more common in people with diabetes. Recently, doctors have tried to cure diabetes patients by injecting them with pancreatic islet beta cells that are normally donated by human cadavers. However, this has not proved to be a cure either. Our immune system treats any new cell, such as a beta cell, that is introduced into our body as a foreigner and therefore tries to reject it. Patients receiving islet cell transplants are required to stay on powerful steroid instrumentation therapy for the rest of their lives, which makes them susceptible to many dangerous infections.

The side effects of these medicines and the shortage of donor tissue make this option not suitable for most diabetics (National Institutes of Health, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2013, Para. 4). Diabetes was a fatal disease before insulin was discovered in 1921. After its discovery, it became a chronic condition which was more manageable, but still fraught with lifestyle issues and long term complications. Scientists are optimistic that stem cells will be to the twenty- first century what insulin was to the last century since stem cells hold great promise for treating many diseases.

Stem cells are cells that have the potential to develop into any organ or tissue in the body. In other words, they an become other types of cells. When the stem cell divides, either the two new cells have the potential to remain a stem cell or they can become a different specialized type of cell, like an islet cell. There are three types of stem cells: Tiptoeing, multivalent and plenteous. Tiptoeing cells are not the type of stem cells researchers are using as they are produced from and an egg and sperm that can develop into a human. Multivalent Stem cells are cells that are can turn into a small number Of different types Of cells.

Adult stem cells are an example of this. Plenteous stem cells are cells hat can turn into any type of cell in the body but cannot grow into an embryo. Embryonic stem cells are an example of plenteous stem cells (Diabetes Research Institute, Para. 1-2). Adult stem cells are found in the body after birth and are responsible for maintaining and repairing the tissue from which they came. Scientists have been surprised to discover adult stem cells in more tissues than were first realized. This finding has supported the theory that if many islet stem cells could be grown, then transplantation would become a possible way to cure type 1 diabetes.

Laboratory scientists are trying to discover improved ways to cultivate large numbers of adult stem cells and then manipulate them to produce precise cell types so they can be transplanted into the patient. The use Of adult Stem cells that are cultured from the patient’s own adult stem cells would mean that the cells are less likely to be attacked by the immune system. This represents a significant advantage, since the side effects of the instrumentation drugs are often worse than the disease (National Institutes of Health, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, 201 2, Para. 6). Embryonic stem cells are obtained from surplus human embryos created from in-vitro fertilization; therefore, they would never be implanted and would subsequently be destroyed. These cells can be used to grow cell “lines” – cell cultures that can be grown indefinitely In a laboratory. Theoretically, embryonic stem cells can grow into every type of cell in the body since they self-renew, which means that a few cells can potentially produce a great amount of new cells. They are also unspecified but can “differentiate” into any type of cell from various organs or tissues.

This means hat embryonic stem cells could be influenced to grow into insulin producing islet cells in the pancreas (What are adult stem cells? , 2013, p. 4). Embryonic stem cells are somewhat controversial since many people are either adamantly for or against their use. Some people think it is ethically wrong to use, or produce, embryos for the sole purpose of research, while others think that using embryos that would otherwise be destroyed is an extremely good research tool. President Obama reversed the prior administration’s veto of a bill that all but stopped research on and funding for stem cells.

On March 9, 2009, President Obama issued Executive Order (E) 1 3505 authorizing the Secretary of Health and Human Services, through the Director of NIH, to “support and conduct responsible, scientifically worthy human stem cell research, including human embryonic stem cell research, to the extent permitted by law'(Removing BARRIERS TO RESPONSIBLE SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH INVOLVING HUMAN STEM CELLS, 2009). He also pledged $21 million in grants. In December 2009, the National Institutes of Health announced that it had approved 13 human embryonic Stem cell lines for immediate use with 96 more under review.

These lines meet the ethical standards of being “all created with private funds from fertility-clinic embryos due to be discarded” and meet the ethical standards for research that is federally funded (An Editorial: A New Era, Para. 5-6). These new lines are definitely a huge stride and ensure that the road to a cure is going in the right direction. In order to find a cure, researchers are hopeful that stem cells will one day provide an unlimited resource for insulin-producing cells so that transplanting them will become more feasible.

If they could teach stem ells to actually become exact replicas of other cells, like the beta cells that produce insulin, they could cure diabetes. Scientists also hope that stem cells can help prevent or repair the complications that are devastating to the patients quality of life. For example, stem cells could potentially repair the large and small blood vessels that are damaged by diabetes; therefore, undoing the damage from its long term effects (What is stem cell research? , 2013). As a person with type 1 diabetes, I support stem cell research for all chronic diseases that could benefit from the use of stem cells o cure them.

However, I do not support the manufacturing of embryos solely for the purpose of research. I do feel that life begins at the moment of conception; given enough time, through the miraculous events of growth and development in the womb, a baby will be born. However, there are currently 400,000 frozen embryos in fertility clinics that will most likely be discarded. Why not use these embryos in stem cell research? Let their legacy be one of research and perhaps a cure. Feel using embryos that will be discarded is no different than donating organs and tissue after someone dies.

As long as the arenas have given consent for their frozen embryo to be used for research, I think this could be a step in the right direction for a cure for so many diseases. I believe that it is more morally correct to use them than to just discard them. Diabetes is a monumental threat to human health in the 21 SST century. Not only does the disease cripple lives, but our healthcare resources will be drained by the deadly complications Of so many millions Of Americans. We owe it to ourselves, and future generations, to find a cure.

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Stem Cells: Are They the Cure for Diabetes?. (2018, Mar 14). Retrieved from