Toronto: Scientists have shown for the first time that Type 2 diabetes can be effectively treated with a combination of specially-cultured stem cells and conventional diabetes drugs.
Type 2 diabetes, which usually arises in adulthood and often stems from poor diet, lack of exercise and obesity - accounts for more than 90 per cent of diabetes cases.
Timothy Kieffer, a professor in the department of cellular and physiological sciences at the University of British Columbia, and scientists from BetaLogics simulated Type 2 diabetes in mice by putting them on a high-fat, high-calorie diet for several weeks.
Kieffer's team then surgically implanted pancreatic-like cells that had been grown in the laboratory from human stem cells.
Mice that received a combination of the cells with one of three diabetes drugs became as "glucose tolerant" as the healthy mice, meaning they were able to keep their blood sugar in check, even after ingesting a sugary meal.
In contrast, a group of mice with simulated Type 2 diabetes that received the drugs but not the transplants remained glucose-intolerant.
"Being able to reduce spikes in blood sugar levels is important because evidence suggests it's those spikes that do a lot of the damage - increasing risks for blindness, heart attack, and kidney failure," said Kieffer, a member of UBC's Life Sciences Institute.
The combination therapy also produced an unexpected but welcome result: the mice returned to a normal weight, the same weight as the healthy control group mice that had been reared on a low-fat diet.
"Their weight loss was intriguing, because some of the common diabetes therapies often lead to weight gain. We need to do more studies to understand how the cell transplants lead to weight loss," Kieffer said.
The study was published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.