(March 2010) “We aim to put the Diabetes Research Institute out of business. We want to see a cure for this disease, and I believe the DRI is on the right track,” said Jim McClellan, president of the Fred and Mabel R. Parks Foundation, which recently awarded a $200,000 grant to the Diabetes Research Institute to fund cord blood-derived stem cell research.
Stem cell research has been a major focus at the Diabetes Research Institute for a number of years. Due to their potential to develop into many different cell types in the body, stem cells are one of the most exciting and talked about areas of scientific research. Their restorative power could help treat and possibly eradicate many degenerative diseases that are currently labeled incurable.
DRI scientists focusing on diabetes stem cell research are trying to turn them into insulin-producing islet cells and have been making significant progress. This could be the key to developing a reliable and unlimited supply of healthy islet cells to treat the millions of people who can benefit from cell replacement therapy.
In addition to other cell types, DRI scientists have been studying cord blood-derived stem cells, which are showing promise as a new source of insulin-producing cells. These cells may also play a role in establishing donor-specific tolerance and thwarting rejection by re-educating the immune system to accept donor and recipient bone marrow as “self.”
As the name implies, cord blood cells are painlessly obtained from the umbilical cords of healthy babies at birth after a normal, full term pregnancy. These cells are multipotent and active, which means that they may transform (differentiate) toward most tissues of the body, including the insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells. In order to direct the stem cells to go down a certain developmental path, they are isolated from the blood and cultured in the laboratory under conditions that favor the selection of stem cells.
The availability of funds from the Fred and Mabel R. Parks Foundation will fuel the pace at which research progress in this area is being made and facilitate quantum leaps in the DRI’s ability to harness the potential of these powerful cell types.
The organization has been supporting the DRI’s cure-focused work ever since Jim learned of the Institute’s research through an online search. He has since taken a tour of the state-of-the-art facility.
“The tour exceeded my expectations. I met several of the scientists and saw the research going on firsthand. I was amazed at what they can do, and supporting this effort is critical to me,” said Jim, who also explained that diabetes is rampant in his family. “Finding a cure for this horrible disease is what’s most important to me personally.”
With this funding, the DRI will be able to further define the optimal method of culturing and transforming cord blood stem cells into insulin producing cells and then evaluate their ability to reverse diabetes in mice.