Researchers at the University of Florida Health say they have found a way to expand certain preserved cord blood cells that could potentially serve as a long-term treatment for type 1 diabetes. The cells are called thymic regulatory T cells, or tTregs for short. They are a type of white blood cell that helps prevent autoimmune responses, which is when a person’s immune system attacks him- or herself.
Diabetics may have to self-administer insulin shots like this three times a day.
Using microbeads that activate and stimulate growth, scientists were able to culture 1.26 billion tTreg cells from a harvest of 250,000–500,000 umbilical cord tTregs. This is another step toward being able to harvest part of a cryo-preserved cord blood collection and using the cord blood stem cells in multiple treatments. (This is why we now separate our clients’ cord blood collections into five separate compartments.)
Type 1 diabetes is a type of autoimmune response where the body destroys its own insulin-producing beta cells, located in the pancreas. Stem cell treatments, while safe and a possible treatment for the disease, may not be a life-long cure. In a recent study, some patients became insulin-free for three years or longer but some remained insulin-dependent and many eventually resumed insulin injections.
Having the ability to propagate these tTreg cells could be a step toward stopping the disease because it allows doctors to do the following: (1) replenish low tTreg counts caught early in life, (2) replace bad tTregs with a fresh supply of new good tTregs and (3) renew treatments as or if insulin-dependency returns.