With the success of the Edmonton Protocol in islet cell transplants, scientists seeking to cure diabetes are looking at ways to increase the supply of islets for transplants and to minimize the subsequent need for immunosuppressive drugs. One potential source is stem cells, the basic building block cells that form during early embryo development and which are present, to some degree, in adults. Many scientists believe that stem cell research has the potential to provide an unlimited supply of beta cells, the insulin-producing cells that are destroyed in people who have type 1 diabetes, and thereby form the basis for a cure for type 1 diabetes.
Stem cells come in two varieties: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are taken from developing embryos that are discarded from in-vitro fertilization clinics and which would otherwise be destroyed. Research on embryonic stem cells is relatively recent. Adult stem cells, also called somatic stem cells, are found in very small numbers throughout the body. Adult stem cells have been used in science and medicine for decades, notably in bone marrow transplants.
Researchers involved in many diseases, including diabetes, are hopeful that stem cell research will lead to new therapies that will improve health and even lead to cures.
Support for stem cell research is not universal, however. Some groups oppose the use of embryonic stem cells because they are derived from human embryos, which are destroyed when the stem cells are removed.
General Information About Stem Cell Research
- The Stem Cell Primer from the National Institutes of Health provides an excellent overview of stem cells, why scientists are interested in them, and the differences between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells
- Embryonic Stem Cell Research from The White House
- Stem Cell Information from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
- Embryonic Stem Cell Research at UW-Madison, where human embryonic stem cells were first isolated in 1998
- Stem Cell Therapy Images from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a major source for stem cells
- CNN.com Special about Stem Cells
- Policy Brief: Stem Cell Research from the American Association for the Advancement of Science
Groups In Favor of Stem Cell Research
- Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research
- Stem Cell Public Policy Information from the American Society for Cell Biology
- Stem Cell Research Foundation
Groups Opposed to Stem Cell Research
- Scientific and Therapeutic Use of Human Embryonic Stem Cells from the Vatican
- The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics
- The Americans to Ban Cloning
Other links to stem cell information can be found at the NIH Stem Cell Information web site.
October 15, 2002
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