In a world-first clinical study, Australian researchers are hoping to prevent or delay the onset of type 1 diabetes by using stem cells from umbilical cord blood, Sam Ikin reports.
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UPDATED 10:48 AM - 26 Aug 2013

In a world-first clinical study, Australian researchers are hoping to prevent or delay the onset of type 1 diabetes by using stem cells from the patient's own umbilical cord blood.

They hope that injecting unique immune cells back into the patient, the disease could be avoided entirely.

“A number of animal studies have shown that infusion of regulatory T-cells from cord blood actually does prevent type 1 diabetes,” says Associate Professor Maria Craig, a paediatric endocrinologist at Sydney's Westmead Children's hospital.

“So there's a very strong scientific basis for undertaking the study.”

But researchers say to reap the benefits of cord blood, parents have to make the decision to have it stored.

Currently in Australia there are around 25,000 samples stored. Researchers hope that successful results in this trial will help increase awareness of storing cord blood.

“Australia has one of the lowest rates of cord blood collection in the world really, in the developed world,” says Cell Care's medical director, Associate Professor Mark Kirkland.

“Certainly for people with a family history of diseases such as diabetes, I think it's something they really need to be thinking about.”

Australia has one of the highest rates of type 1 diabetes in the world.

Scientists believe cord blood infusion could also be used to treat a wide range of auto immune diseases.

Still, it's not a cheap process and not every family will be able to afford it.

There's also no guarantee the treatment will transfer to humans, says Professor Craig, but there's every reason to be hopeful.

“We do hope this is the first of many studies investigating this very novel approach to preventing type 1 diabetes.”