Scientists in the US believe so-called hyperbaric oxygen therapy combined with stem cell treatment could hold the key to reversing type 2 diabetes.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves a patient sitting in a pressurised diving chamber. It is normally used for helping divers who have surfaced too quickly and have bubbles of nitrogen in the blood, but can also help speed up healing of wounds.
In this high-pressure atmosphere, oxygen levels are much higher than normal and studies have shown that breathing in more oxygen can increase the activity of the body’s stem cells, which in turn can help them to repair the cells in the pancreas responsible for producing and secreting insulin.
For the new combined treatment, stem cells are extracted from a patient’s bone marrow, multiplied in the lab and then injected back into the pancreas. The patient then enters the diving chamber to boost cell activity and hopefully kick-start insulin production.
The diabetic benefits of this new treatment were highlighted in a study conducted at Miami University and published in the journal Cell Transplantation.
The research involved 25 patients with type 2 diabetes who underwent five hour-long sessions of hyperbaric oxygen therapy before and after the stem cell injections . Each patient was either on metformin (the most common diabetes drug) or insulin treatment, or both.
After the week-long combined treatment, four of the patients were able to come off insulin, while over the following year, 15 patients gradually reduced their need for insulin and 10 stopped or reduced their use of metformin.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Matthew Hobbs, head of research at Diabetes UK, said: “Although any stem cell therapies for type 1 and type 2 diabetes are many years away from widespread clinical use, researchers agree that stem cells hold great potential to treat and perhaps even cure a range of different health conditions.
“Stem cell research is an exciting area of science that, in the long term, could help us bring about a future without diabetes.”

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