:: Health Conditions - Diabetes
Position on Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) supports research using embryonic stem cells
within the framework of appropriate scientific and ethical
guidelines. The cells must have been derived from embryos
donated with appropriate informed consent, from embryos created
for reproductive purposes and in excess of clinical need,
and the donation must not have involved financial inducements.
Embryonic stem cells come from excess fertilized eggs that
are discarded at in vitro fertility clinics. Researchers believe
that embryonic stem cells, which can replicate themselves
indefinitely, may be used to grow new tissue that will become
the 'missing link' needed to cure some of the world's most
debilitating illnesses and conditions, including Juvenile
Federal funding is critically important to this research.
Without it, the country's top academic researchers - employed
at research universities, medical schools and teaching hospitals
that rely on federal research funds - will largely be unable
to pursue this work. That means slower progress toward life-saving
medical cures. Ensuring that research is not confined to the
for-profit, commercial sector, and allowing the federal government
to set ethical standards and advance peer-reviewed work that
is subject to public oversight will prevent potential abuse
of this type of research.
Promise of Stem Cell Research for Diabetes
Research on human "stem cells" holds the promise
of a cure for diabetes. JDRF supports this area of research
because of the recent discovery isolating stem cells; such
cells could one day be stimulated to develop into pancreatic
islet cells to replace those that have been destroyed in people
with Juvenile Diabetes. Stem cells have the potential to develop
into any tissue or organ in the body and yet cannot develop
into a full human being. Moreover, these cells could be engineered
in such a way that people who receive them might not need
highly toxic immunosuppressive drugs, which prevent the body
from rejecting "foreign" tissue-currently a major
obstacle to successful islet transplantation.
Islet Cell Transplantation: A Possible
Juvenile Diabetes is caused by the body's autoimmune destruction
of its own insulin-producing islet cells. One of the most
promising ways of curing diabetes is to restore biologically
the function of islet cells. This could occur either through
islet cell transplantation or through engineering of cells
to restore the insulin secreting function. In both instances,
the availability of stem cells would significantly expedite
Islet cell transplantation has two major obstacles: Insufficient
islets available for transplantation, and recurrence of the
autoimmune response that attacks the islets after transplantation.
The problem of insufficient supply of islet cells could potentially
be solved through additional stem cell research. Because the
cells being studied are so early in their developmental stage,
scientists are hopeful they will be able to one day direct
their development into any human tissue or organ. If and when
scientists can specialize these cells to become insulin-producing
islet cells, cell lines could be developed to produce an unlimited
number of islet cells, even just a single primordial stem
cell. This would effectively solve the islet cell supply problem.
In addition, in most cases, the immune system of a person
with Juvenile Diabetes will not tolerate islet cell transplantation,
even when an individual is given anti-rejection medications
(which themselves can cause serious problems). Because stem
cells are primordial all-purpose cells from which all tissues
of the body develop, it may be possible to alter them genetically
so that they will not be susceptible to an immune attack.
This would negate the need for immunosuppression.