Stem cell treatment to target diabetes

By Editor
21st October 2015

A stem cell factory which will be used to create treatment for people at risk of developing diabetes-related kidney problems is being set up.

NHS Blood and Transplant hope the injections will slow down or stop tissue damage, removing the need for dialysis or transplants.

Diabetes is the most common cause of end stage kidney disease, which kills around 40,000 people a year in the UK.

The 48 people who will be taking part in the experimental therapy will be treated at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation TrustBelfast Health and Social Care Trust and at trial sites at the National University of Ireland, Galway and the Mario Negri Institute in Italy.

The injection of cells they will receive are called stromal cells and they are grown from donated human bone marrow at the factory in Liverpool.

These immature cells can grow and change into a variety of tissue – bone, cartilage and fat. But it is their ability to release proteins that reduce inflammation in the kidney which interests the researchers.

Diabetes is currently the most common cause of end stage kidney disease resulting in the need for dialysis or transplantation

In animal studies, stromal cell injections have provided measurable improvements in kidney function and it is hoped they will do the same in people.

‘Modern approaches’

The study, known as NEPHSTROM, will involve splitting the participants into two groups. The first group will receive the stromal cell injections, but not all at the same dosage. The second group will be given a placebo. This way, the researchers will be able to assess whether the stromal cells have a significant effect on kidney function.

Project leader Prof Timothy O’Brien, from the National University of Ireland, Galway, said: “If predictions prove correct, then our healthcare systems are facing a huge task in managing the complications caused by ever-increasing numbers of patients with diabetes mellitus.

“Diabetes is currently the most common cause of end stage kidney disease resulting in the need for dialysis or transplantation. We are confident that by harnessing the most modern approaches in stromal cell therapeutics there may well be a way to halt the progression of diabetic kidney disease using this therapy.”

About three in four people with diabetes will develop kidney disease. It is caused by damage to the small blood vessels that supply the kidneys. But it can be prevented or delayed by keeping blood sugar and blood pressure levels under tight control.

Dr Eric Austin, head of Stem Cell Immunotherapy at NHS Blood and Transplant’s site in Speke, Liverpool, said: “This is an exciting project for us to be involved with – especially as the treatment has the potential to lead to lifesaving outcomes for a major illness.”

The research project is being funded by a 6m euro grant from the European Union Horizon 2020 programme.

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