Diabetes is actually a group of diseases characterized by abnormally high levels of the sugar glucose in the bloodstream. This excess glucose is responsible for most of the complications of diabetes, which include blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, stroke, neuropathy, and amputations. Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile-onset diabetes, typically affects children and young adults. Diabetes develops when the body's immune system sees its own cells as foreign and attacks and destroys them. As a result, the islet cells of the pancreas, which normally produce insulin, are destroyed. In the absence of insulin, glucose cannot enter the cell and glucose accumulates in the blood. Type 2 diabetes, also called adult-onset diabetes, tends to affect older, sedentary, and overweight individuals with a family history of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body cannot use insulin effectively. This is called insulin resistance and the result is the same as with type 1 diabetes—a build up of glucose in the blood.
There is currently no cure for diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin several times a day and test their blood glucose concentration three to four times a day throughout their entire lives. Frequent monitoring is important because patients who keep their blood glucose concentrations as close to normal as possible can significantly reduce many of the complications of diabetes, such as retinopathy (a disease of the small blood vessels of the eye which can lead to blindness) and heart disease, that tend to develop over time. People with type 2 diabetes can often control their blood glucose concentrations through a combination of diet, exercise, and oral medication. Type 2 diabetes often progresses to the point where only insulin therapy will control blood glucose concentrations.
Diabetics using stem-cell therapy have been able to stop taking insulin injections for the first time, after their bodies started to produce the hormone naturally again. In a breakthrough trial, 15 young patients with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes were given drugs to suppress their immune systems followed by transfusions of stem cells drawn from their own blood.
The results show that insulin-dependent diabetics can be freed from reliance on needles by an injection of their own stem cells. The therapy could signal a revolution in the treatment of the condition .
People with type 1 diabetes have to give themselves regular injections to control blood-sugar levels, as their ability to create the hormone naturally is destroyed by an immune disorder .