Haller at University of Florida is running a research program to transfuse into honeymoon diabetics their own (previously frozen) umbilical cord blood. Umbilical cord contains stem cells and also a lot of a specific type of T-cell (part of the immune system) called T-regulators. These cells help to regulate the immune system, and since type-1 diabetes is caused by a lack of immune regulation, this seems like a reasonable thing to try. Especially since more and more people are "banking" their children's umbilical cords at birth. The Phase-I study was focused on two possible paths to a cure: adult stem cells would migrate to the pancreas and help grow new beta cells, and/or T-regulators would help suppress the bad immune response. It appears that the adult stem cells path did not pan out, and the phase-II trial only discusses the T-reg mechanism, and not the adult stem cell mechanism.
So the basic status is that Haller has completed a phase-I trial, and gotten good results, and has started a phase-II trial.
The Phase-I Trial
It is supposed to involve 23 patients and run from April 2005 to July 2010, however the data I've seen covered 8 patients and was published in June 2007, so it is an interim result.
That said, the results were good: a few months after the transfusion, the treated kids had an average A1C 1 point lower than untreated (7 compared to 8), they used about 2/3 as much insulin per kg of body weight as the untreated patients, and they generated more C-peptide in response to food (meaning they generated more of their own insulin).
For the phase-I trial:
http://cordblood.cryosite.com/UserFiles/File/Cord%20Blood%20and%20Diabetes.pdf Nice summary
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18358588 Phase-I Results Abstract
http://cordblood.net/cbrblog/haller-abstract.pdf Phase-I Results Whole Paper
http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00305344 Phase-I US Clinical Trial Record
The Phase-II Trial
It involves 15 patients (10 get treatment, 5 are the control group), and is scheduled to start March 2009 and finish collecting data by March 2012.
More details are described here:
http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00873925 Phase-II US Clinical Trial Record
My thoughts on this line of research are here; these are all personal opinions:
First, I think it is pretty limited in direct application, since it requires banked cord cells and is a honeymoon treatment. But I'm always hopeful that they might learn something that could be applied more broadly.
Second, I'm very interested in how long the effect lasts. Is it permanent, or does it go away over time?
Third, I think their "phase-II" experiment is tiny. Only 15 patients makes it smaller than some phase-I experiments that I've followed, and that's not a good sign.
Forth, this research "feels" to me like basic research where they're trying to better understand how adult stem cells and T-regulator cells might help type-1 diabetics, by experimenting on people. Rather than research on a short, straight line path to a cure.
Thanks to Ellen over at www.childrenwithdiabetes.com for pointing the phase-II trial out to me.