The Qatar Biomedical Research Institute research team has developed a new line of diabetes treatment using stem cells that could possibly solve the Middle East’s burgeoning diabetes problem.
In what is believed to be a major breakthrough, scientists at the Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI) have developed a new treatment for diabetes using stem cells.
The clinical trials of this novel approach will begin at the Hamad General Hospital in about six months.
Speaking to Gulf Times in an exclusive interview, Dr. Nagy Habib, Scientific Director, Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Research Centre at the QBRI, said,
“We have set up a clinical trial protocol in collaboration with Imperial College London and have met with the Supreme Council of Health officials for ethics for approval of the clinical trials in Doha.”
“These are still early days of testing. By using stem cells, the patient would not need insulin injections any more. The stem cells for treatment can be taken from the blood of the patient or it can be collected from any other external source,”
The Middle East has one of the highest incidences of diabetes in the world and six countries of the region feature in the world’s top twenty countries with diabetes prevalence.
Due to unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles, the number of diabetics in the region is increasing rapidly at a rate higher than the global average.
Most of the food we eat is broken down into glucose, a form of sugar, which then is absorbed by the cells in the body. However, glucose cannot enter into cells without insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas, being present.
In a healthy individual, the beta cells of the pancreas produce more insulin when the levels of sugar in the bloodstream go up and less insulin when they go down.
However, in a diabetic person, the pancreas either does not secrete enough insulin, or the body cells do not respond to the secreted insulin which leads to higher concentrations of unabsorbed sugar in the bloodstream.
Though the body has plenty of glucose, the cells cannot absorb it and are deprived of their essential energy requirements. The diabetics, therefore, have no option but to continually take periodic injections of insulin to facilitate glucose absorption.
“People with diabetes face serious medical complications, including heart disease and kidney failure. This discovery has the potential to reduce this burden by harnessing the body’s own stem cells to secrete insulin as needed to maintain proper blood sugar levels in the body. This research represents the first promising steps toward a new treatment, but it will need to go through the clinical validation before it is declared a viable therapy,”
Said Dr. Abdul Ali Haoudi, the Executive Director of QBRI and a co-author of the study.
Stem cells are undifferentiated biological cells capable of growing into specialised cells such as neurons, heart, liver, and pancreatic cells.
The potential of stem cells in treating diabetes and other diseases is known for a long time but this is the first time a line of treatment is going into clinical trial stage.
The QBRI scientists have developed induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), a special type of stem cells that can be generated directly from adult cells, which can be implanted into the body of a diabetic individual to secrete insulin as needed to maintain healthy blood sugar levels in the bloodstream.
The Qatar team’s research study, published in Molecular Therapy-Nucleic Acids, the official journal of the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy, speaks of a new approach of treating diabetes by injecting bioengineered surrogate insulin-producing cells.
Once patients are injected with such iPS cells, the patient need not take any insulin supplements.
At present, the iPS cells manufactured by the QBRI research scientists last for six months and team is working to prepare cells that last longer than a year.
Dr. Philippe Froguel, Scientific Director, Genomic Medicine and Systems Biology Research Centre at the QBRI, said,
“If we can make the genetic testing successful we can cure people from diabetes. We have developed a methodology of easy screening of genes which is not expensive. This is something that we will implement within the next three months.”
If the clinical trials to be conducted at the Hamad General Hospital are successful, within two years diabetics could avail stem cell treatment and do away with taking insulin daily.
This groundbreaking research by the Qatar team holds promise of a solution to the rapidly increasing problem of diabetes and obesity in the Middle Eastern as well as the global population.