Research Uses Stem Cells to Treat Diabetes

Dr. Meredith, Endocrinologist, UW Health, Madison, Wisconsin

Dr. Melissa Meredith

MADISON — A UW-Madison student newly diagnosed with diabetes has become the first patient in Wisconsin to enroll in a research study aimed at learning if an infusion of experimental stem cells, mesenchymal stem cells, will cure his Type 1 diabetes.

John Markwardt, 20 of Wausau received his first treatment Thursday as part of the trial at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. He is scheduled for a second stem-cell treatment next month.

According to principal investigator Melissa Meredith, MD, the innovative study is one of the first attempts to use adult stem cells to treat diabetes, the seventh-leading cause of death in the U.S.

"The reason we have focused on people recently diagnosed is they still have some beta cells capable of making insulin," she says. "If we can stop that immune destruction (through stem-cell therapy), they still have the ability to make some insulin. We also know beta cells have the ability to regenerate. Even if they aren't totally off insulin, it's a better way to control the disease when they aren't reliant on injected insulin and are making more of it themselves."

The study is a randomized, "double-blind" trial, which is considered the gold standard of clinical research. Markwardt will receive intravenous doses of either actual stem cells or a placebo, and neither the patient nor the doctor knows which treatment is used. Double-blind procedures are used to guard against bias toward experimental treatments and placebo effects.

Meredith, a diabetes expert and associate professor of medicine (endocrinology) is working closely with Peiman Hematti, MD, assistant professor of hematology/oncology at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, on the trial.

Hematti has used the same type of cells in another study for treatment of graft-versus-host disease, a serious and potentially fatal complication after bone marrow transplantation.

Mesenchymal stem cells are derived from bone marrow of adult normal donors and can be used without any tissue matching. So, one small donation of bone marrow sample can provide enough cells for treatment of many patients.

Markwardt was diagnosed in the spring with Type 1 diabetes, which requires regular use of insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. Poorly controlled diabetes can lead to serious health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, amputations, kidney disease and nerve damage.

The experiment, sponsored by Osiris Therapeutics of Baltimore, Maryland, involves just 20 medical centers nationally. The company hopes to eventually recruit total of 60 patients between ages 18-30.

These patients will be monitored for up to two years to determine how much insulin they are producing and if the treatment can reduce or eliminate the need for insulin injections. Meredith says until then, they will receive insulin treatments as needed to control blood sugars.

Date Published: 07/16/2009

News tag(s):  diabetesresearchmelissa meredithpeiman hematti

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