Blood from the umbilical cord may be able to prevent or delay the onset of type 1 diabetes in children at high risk of the disease, researchers in Australia claim.
Rich in unique immune cells, cord blood has a already been shown to be useful for treating medical conditions such as leukaemia, and now experts at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Sydney believe its disease-tackling benefits could extend to type 1, or insulin-dependant, diabetes.
To assess the blood’s potential anti-diabetic role, the researchers will conduct a world-first clinical study that will involve injecting regulatory T cells from the patient’s own umbilical cord blood – collected at birth and stored in a private cord blood bank – back into their pancreas .
They hope that the cells will be able to stop the autoimmune process which leads to the destruction of the pancreatic insulin-producing beta cells.
Associate Professor Maria Craig, a paediatric endocrinologist at the hospital, said: “A number of animal studies have shown that infusion of regulatory T-cells from cord blood actually does prevent type 1 diabetes. So there’s a very strong scientific basis for undertaking the study.”
“Research is only just starting to unlock the potential for cord blood, with its potent mix of valuable cells, to help manage a variety of disease states.
Around 20 children aged one to 12 years whose cord blood has been stored and who have a close relative with type 1 diabetes will take part in the study, which the researchers hope will be the “first of many” to investigate this novel approach.