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Dr. Bill's Commentaries

Current status of stem cells for diabetes   (March 22, 2008)

I recently received the following e-mail:

"I'm a 17 year old diabetic who has been following the research and hoping that stem cells will be legalized. I haven't had any recent updates on how things are going, and I was curious if you could fill me in? Last I heard there was a very small conversion rate and a very very slim success rate. I'm just a sitting duck right now and know a lot about this already, but always trying to learn more. Thats why I am hoping also to get to try some experimental things after I turn 18 this month."

My reply:

"I understand your impatience and concern about your diabetes.

"However, you must be realistic, and understand that the use of stem cells for treatment of diabetes is still a hope for the future rather than anything likely to be useful in the next few years. I wrote recently about a tantalizing report of stem cell success for diabetes in mice. This research demonstrated that indeed stem cells could be manipulated to control mouse blood glucose levels. Although this is an important start, don't count on similar studies being done in humans for years -- clearly the side effect of developing tumors that occurred in this study is a humongous problem, and one that may take a very long time to understand and avoid.

"Another point that I'd like to clarify: using stem cells in research is perfectly legal -- it's just that present US policy doesn't allow Federal funding for most embryonic stem cell research. Some states, and many other countries, are highly supportive of stem cell research, and I'd expect that the US government will reverse its present policy restricting use of embryonic stem cells, as all three major candidates for President say they are in favor of Federal funding.

"By the way, if you hear of a clinic offering to treat your diabetes with stem cells, probably in some foreign country, don't spend your money. It's a scam. See, for instance, 'Stem cell therapy' craze spreads in Russia.

"Since you said you're interested in research, be sure you keep up with available clinical trials at It's a registry of federally and privately supported clinical trials conducted in the United States and around the world, and provides information about a trial's purpose, who may participate, locations, and phone numbers for more details.

"In the meantime, you should be caring for your diabetes as best you can: either with an insulin pump or multiple injections of insulin in a basal/bolus program, exercising regularly, and keeping your A1C normal or nearly so. It's tough to do, but it's the best bet to keep you healthy."

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Dr. Bill Quick began writing at HealthCentral's diabetes website in November, 2006. These essays are reproduced at D-is-for-Diabetes with the permission of HealthCentral.

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