Researchers Working With Stem Cells To Treat Diabetes

AURORA, Colo (CBS4) – Stem cells could be the key to curing Type 1 diabetes. Researchers at the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes are working on ways to give diabetic patients new insulin-producing cells.

David Ramirez (credit CBS)

David Ramirez is a researcher at the Barbara Davis Center, he’s also a Type 1 diabetic. Diagnosed 21 years ago, Ramirez checks his blood sugar regularly. He watches what he eats and balances his exercise.

“I definitely worry about it,” he told CBS4.

He thinks about Type 1 diabetes every hour of every day.

“Things aren’t perfect. I still don’t know how to bolus for pizza correctly,” he said with a laugh.

(credit CBS)

Ramirez looks forward to a day when he doesn’t have to calculate the carbs in a slice of pizza. Holger Russ, an assistant professor at the Barbara Davis Center, works toward that day too.

“We definitely have a cure in mind,” Russ told CBS4.

Holger Russ of the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes (credit CBS)

Russ works with pluripotent stem cells. Every day, he and his team feeds them and grows them. Three years ago, he was able to coax the stem cells into becoming glucose-reactive, insulin-producing beta cells.

“They can function there, can basically secrete insulin in response to an increase in blood sugar, which happens after the patient ate,” Russ explained.

Stem Cell Colony (credit CBS)

Beta cells are the very cells that Ramirez is missing, which requires him to pump insulin into his body.

“We made a big step, and there are about 2 more big steps to take,” Russ said.

Those steps include figuring out how to protect the new insulin cells as they go into and live in a patient’s pancreas.

“If we can replace their beta cells, we would now have a biological pancreas, not an artificial pancreas,” said Lori Sussel, research director at the Barbara Davis Center.

Essentially a cure, but a cure for Type 1 diabetes comes at a cost. The Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes gets most of its funding from the Children’s Diabetes Foundation, as well as various other funding sources.

LINK: Children’s Diabetes Foundation

“The research is every expensive, and this is a major hurdle for us,” Sussel said.

For Ramirez, this stem cell research is priceless because it gives him hope for the future.

“There will be a point when I have to think about my diabetes less,” he said.

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