Tuesday, April 10, 2007


I've been a very bad blogger of late.

Which is kind of sad because there's been plenty of grist.

In fact, I'd love to just let loose right now.

But in this moment, I can't stop thinking about Brazil.

Earlier tonight my phone rang-- a very excited friend informed me that a piece about type 1 diabetes was on the NBC Nightly News.

I tuned in just in time to see a young girl give herself an insulin injection in the abdomen. And then we were back in the studio.


So I turned off the TV and booted up the laptop.

And there it was.

This amazing story about 13 people with type 1 diabetes in Brazil who no longer needed to take insulin.

Nor did they need to take any other kind of medication.

How could this be?

In a nutshell, these 13 study participants received treatment to stimulate stem cell growth, had those cells extracted from their blood, and then had their immune systems essentially shut down via "several days of high-dose chemotherapy." (Thus stopping their immune system's attack on their remaining beta cells.)

Their own stem cells were then injected back into their bodies in order to "build a new healthier immune system" that would no longer attack the insulin-producing cells in their pancreas.

The length of time since each participant received the treatment varied-- as a result, some have been "cured" for several months; some for as long as three years.


I know that it's early, and this protocol is not without risks.

But man.


Allison said...

I agree that this is really exciting.

But boy, could they have come up with a scarier method of curing diabetes?

Killing off the entire immune system and then hitting the reset button? Yikes. I'm surprised they actually pulled it off.

It seems like a great way of reversing diabetes at diagnosis, but from what I've read, it's not much good for people who already have it. You can't expect beta cells to keep working when there aren't any left. This might be nice for future PWDs, but I guess I'm still waiting.

Anonymous said...

and the other two people in the study are worse off than they were before undergoing the treatment...

but then, there's always a risk. right?

will be interesting to see where this goes :)

Shannon said...

I saw the preview and meant to watch it, but missed it! Thanks for posting.

Scott said...

What this study confirms (at least in my mind) is that its all about the immune system, and while a variety of methods are being investigated for addressing the issue of autoimmunity, the subject had been ignored for decades ... at least now they are looking into it! Lets hope for more continued progress!

Penny said...


Katie Couric broke the news to me last night, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since.

I think it's great that something worked on humans, not mice, but actual people.

I am anxious to see where it all goes.

Bernard said...

Today's Wall Street Journal has an article about some other research in Brazil where folks are being injected with their own bone marrow.

Apparently this is helping with a certain disease that causes heart problems.

I think I'll reserve judgment until there's a detailed study. You can call me cynical, but some of this smells a little like snake oil.

Sandra Miller said...


You're right-- very scary.

But exciting, too.

And while it seems as though it may only help those who haven't had diabetes long, I can't help thinking about other studies that have demonstrated the body's ability to regenerate beta cells...


The author of the study is Dr. Richard Burt, a researcher from Northwestern University School of medicine in Chicago.

According to Burt, "the research was done in Brazil because U.S. doctors were not interested in the approach."

If nothing else, as Scott mentions above, this human study illustrates that targeting the body's autoimmunity (rather than simply replacing lost beta cells) is likely our best hope for a cure.

Whether a cure happens via this protocol or another (hopefully less risky) treatment, I think that this is a huge step in the right direction.

Nicole P said...

Indeed Sandra, it's those other studies - in combination with this one that makes me wonder - almost, but not quite, hope.

I just don't dare.

Can't wait for an update sans Brazil... :)

Hope all is well.

Kendra said...

We're getting there, huh? I admit I was scared s**tless when I read about the chemo, though. Experimental research - big risk, big reward, I guess.

This research definitely puts the spotlight on the immune system though, where it should have been all along. I always explain my diabetes to people in terms of an immune system malfunction, rather than a failure of the pancreas.

MileMasterSarah said...

I've had diabetes for 15 years. My daughter for six months. She is in the very early stages. Would I ever consider wiping out her immune system with chemotherapy to cure her of diabetes. No way. No way no way no way. It freaks me out to think about it. I'd be sending her to her grave. I guess I haven't gotten excited about this. I'd hope for a different and better way.

Sandra Miller said...


I feel the same way about this news.

I haven't even shared it with Joseph-- though, the moment I read of the study I really, really wanted to.

But for now, I'm just gonna watch this thing very closely-- and hope.

(And hey, I'll try to update the blog with something sans Brazil very soon. :-)


Thanks so much for chiming in here.

Yes, reading about the chemotherapy scared me, too.

But what a reward...


While we're not planning a trip to Brazil anytime soon, it is heartening to know that, despite the extreme nature of the treatment, none of the participants in this first study suffered lasting side effects or worse.

Would I put Joseph through high dose chemotherapy down the road if it meant he'd be cured?


Though that decision would be a whole lot easier if it were me and not my son.

Anonymous said...

The study in Brazil seems less risky than traditional chemotherapy such as that used for leukemia -- standard treatment these days. They do not completely wipe out the immune system with chemotherapy, they still leave a portion of the immune system functioning. However, still risky, life threatening. Grateful there are some "guinea pigs" out there willing to try!