Stem cell research has also been suggested as a potential avenue for a cure since it may permit regrowth of Islet cells which are genetically part of the treated individual, thus perhaps eliminating the need for immuno-suppressants. This new method autologous nonmyeloablative hematopoietic stem cell transplantation was developed by a research team composed by Brazilian and American scientists (Dr. Julio Voltarelli, Dr. Carlos Eduardo Couri, Dr Richard Burt, and colleagues) and it was the first study to use stem cell therapy in human diabetes mellitus This was initially tested in mice and in 2007 there was the first publication of stem cell therapy to treat this form of diabetes. Until 2009, there was 23 patients included and followed for a mean period of 29.8 months (ranging from 7 to 58 months). In the trial, severe immunosuppression with high doses of cyclophosphamide and anti-thymocyte globulin is used with the aim of "turning off" the immunologic system", and then autologous hematopoietic stem cells are reinfused to regenerate a new one. In summary it is a kind of "immunologic reset" that blocks the autoimmune attack against residual pancreatic insulin-producing cells. Until December 2009, 12 patients remained continuously insulin-free for periods ranging from 14 to 52 months and 8 patients became transiently insulin-free for periods ranging from 6 to 47 months. Of these last 8 patients, 2 became insulin-free again after the use of sitagliptin, a DPP-4 inhibitor approved only to treat type 2 diabetic patients and this is also the first study to document the use and complete insulin-independendce in humans with type 1 diabetes with this medication. In parallel with insulin suspension, indirect measures of endogenous insulin secretion revealed that it significantly increased in the whole group of patients, regardless the need of daily exogenous insulin use.
Robert Ferry Jr., MD, is a U.S. board-certified Pediatric Endocrinologist. After taking his baccalaureate degree from Yale College, receiving his doctoral degree and residency training in pediatrics at University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA), he completed fellowship training in pediatric endocrinology at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.