Anywhere But Here (Unfortunately)

Stem cell research is already starting to pay off for diabetics, just not for those in the US.

Walt Raleigh picBy Walt Raleigh

A story that ran in the LA Times on April 11, 2007, should have received wider play in US media than it did.

An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, entitled (brace yourselves) "Autologous Nonmyeloablative Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation in Newly Diagnosed Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus" reported, basically, early results of apparently successful treatment of Type 1 diabetes with stem cells.

Researchers have demonstrated for the first time that the progression of Type 1 diabetes can be halted — and possibly reversed — by a stem-cell transplant that preserves the body's diminishing ability to make insulin, according to a study published today. The experimental therapy eliminated the need for insulin injections for months or even years in 14 of 15 patients recently diagnosed with the disease. One subject, a 30-year-old male, hasn't taken insulin since his stem-cell transplant more than three years ago, according to the study in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

Stem cells are a politically charged topic in America, and I realize that I'm wading into potentially treacherous waters by bringing them up in polite discussion.

But they're a politically charged topic that is crucial to the lives of diabetics in America and around the world.

Here are two key points that everyone needs to understand:

1. This vital, groundbreaking research was conducted in Brazil.

2. They did it in Brazil because, due to the restrictive regulatory climate here, they basically *couldn't* do it in America.

While I'm glad that someone, somewhere is doing this absolutely vital research, it pains me that the land of my birth, where people from all over the world once yearned to come to study (and do) science, is missing out on what looks to be the Next Big Thing in biotechnology.

And it pains me that the "rights" of stem cells are apparently more important in the eyes of our legislators than the rights of human beings with chronic, serious illnesses that might well be successfully treated with stem-cell-derived therapies one day.

Let me suggest something that some of you may find a little radical. If you're a diabetic, your future has already been politicized, and you haven't been given any choice in the matter.

The question is, what are you going to do about it?

Science should not be hamstrung by politics. That's the official position of groups ranging from the American Diabetes Association to Scientists and Engineers for America, and if you're someone with a chronic illness or someone who cares for or about someone like that, it should be your position too.

Communicate with your representatives in Congress about this. Track how they're voting (the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research is a good resource for both of these things.)

And definitely, absolutely take their performance on this issue into account when you vote. This is not a Republican issue, it's not a Democratic or Independent issue, it's a human issue.

The next time you go to the polls, vote as if your life depended on it.

In this case, it very well might.

dLife's Daily Living columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: June 19, 2013

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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