By the time most patients receive a clinical diagnosis [for type one diabetes], 60 to 80 per cent of their beta cells have been wiped out. . . . Dr Voltarelli's team hoped that if they intervened early enough they could wipe out and then rebuild the body's immune system by using stem cells, preserving a reservoir of beta cells and allowing them to regenerate.Out of the 15 subjects, 11 were able to stop insulin therapy immediately and no longer require insulin shots three years after the study was carried out. Another two subjects needed "some supplemental insulin" for 12 and 20 months after the procedure, but they were eventually able to dispense with insulin therapy altogether, as well. According to Richard Burt, who co-authored the study, the treatment will probably become widely available in "five to eight years."
They enrolled Brazilian diabetics aged between 14 and 31 who had been diagnosed within the previous six weeks. After stem cells had been harvested from their blood, they then underwent a mild form of chemotherapy to eliminate the white blood cells causing damage to the pancreas. They were then given transfusions of their own stem cells to help rebuild their immune systems.