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Today, about four percent of Americans bank their children's cord blood just in case it might come in handy, and more are doing it every day. Now a small study announced at the 67th Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association has found that infusions of umbilical cord blood may preserve insulin production.
Researchers at the University of Florida recruited seven children, ages two to seven years, who'd just been diagnosed and were still producing a little of their own insulin. They infused the kids with their own cord blood and then compared them with thirteen control youngsters, similar but sans cord blood, who were being intensively treated with insulin. Six months later, the children who received the cord blood had A1c's of 7%, as opposed to 8.04 % in the controls, and they required less insulin per day: 0.45 units per kilogram versus 0.69 units in the controls.
Importantly, the cord blood group saw little change in their levels of C-peptide (a by-product of insulin production in the body), indicating that they may have retained the ability to make their own insulin longer than expected.
How does the cord blood work? The researchers don't think that the stem cells in the cord blood are differentiating into pancreatic beta cells. Instead, they point out that cord blood is a rich source of regulatory T-cells (T regs); throughout the six months after the cord blood infusion, there was a noticeable increase in T regs in the children's blood.
The study authors propose that cord blood may provide a bolus of T regs that restrains the immune system and keeps it from attacking the pancreas. They are hoping that they might eventually be able to take the T regs out of cord blood and grow more of them, after which they could mix a "cocktail" of T-regs and other cell therapies which might arrest or even prevent the development of type 1 diabetes.
Sources: ADA; University of Florida Health Science Center
Dec 18, 2007
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