Diabetes, your family, and how stem cells could help the problem in the Middle East

 In Stem Cell Uses

Diabetes is the 21st century’s leading health care challenge.

If it’s not an issue for you, then it will certainly be an issue for your children.

A staggering 31% of all deaths in the UAE are caused by diabetes and correlated cardiovascular disease. And by 2035, the number of people with type 2 diabetes in the UAE is projected to increase by 96.2%.

As ongoing research and successful clinical trials continue to reveal, stem cell therapy could hold the key to solving this global health problem in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. By storing your child’s stem cells, you have acquired an insurance policy for the future, when the research we’re going to discuss today may become commonplace across the world in treating sufferers of diabetes.

So let’s look at what this means for you and your family.

Tackling the type 2 epidemic

Out of the estimated total of 445 million people living with diabetes worldwide, the majority suffer from type 2 diabetes, the form of the disease where the pancreas produces insufficient insulin or the body becomes resistant to its effects. As the body becomes insulin-resistant, the resulting high glucose levels can cause complications, which can severely damage the eyes, kidneys and nervous system. Type 2 diabetes is also associated with an increased risk of dementia, can double the risk of heart attack and stroke, and can lead to digestive problems.

As the body becomes insulin-resistant, the resulting high glucose levels can cause complications, which can severely damage the eyes, kidneys and nervous system.

The rapid increase in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes, which develops slowly, often going unnoticed for years, can be attributed to a genetic tendency towards insulin resistance. However, obesity and lack of exercise are other important contributory factors.

Researchers are looking at ways in which stem cells can be used to help the pancreas regenerate and boost its ability to produce insulin, which, along with dietary changes, regular exercise and, if necessary, medication, could help in the long-term control of blood sugar in type 2 diabetes.

Ongoing trials are examining how stem cells can be used to stimulate the beta cells to self-renew. A 2016 study investigating the effects of stem cell transfusions derived from Wharton’s jelly – tissue surrounding the umbilical cord vessels – in type 2 diabetic patients showed very promising results. The trial resulted in an increase in beta cells, an improvement in the function of the beta cells and a reduction in raised glucose levels in the patient group, who received two stem cell infusions with a four-week interval.

The UAE ranks 10th in the world for diabetes prevalence and around 90% of diabetes cases in the UAE are type 2. By banking stem cells from umbilical cord blood, as well as encouraging a good diet and lifestyle habits, parents in the UAE can give their children the best chance of not becoming part of this alarming statistic.

 How stem cell therapy could help type 1 diabetes treatment

Type 1 diabetes occurs when little or no insulin is produced to regulate blood sugar levels because the body’s own immune system destroys the cells that produce insulin. It is an ideal candidate for stem cell therapy because the disease can be traced to the loss of a single cell type, the insulin-producing beta cell created in the pancreas. Researchers are looking at delivering stem cells to the patient, in the form of direct injections or as an IV transfusion. The stem cells could then replicate new beta cells or repair those that are damaged, the end goal being to return insulin to normal levels and function.

The stem cells could then replicate new beta cells or repair those that are damaged, the end goal being to return insulin to normal levels and function.

With type 1 diabetes, the beta cells responsible for producing the insulin are destroyed. Scientists are looking at the potential of umbilical cord blood stem cells to stimulate the pancreas to regenerate new beta cells to replace those destroyed by the autoimmune response. Ongoing investigations are also looking at the ability of stem cell therapy to replace the defective cells produced in the pancreas with healthy new beta cells that would be able to produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels in the body.

Another area being investigated is the infusion of patients with cord blood stem cells to increase the number of T cells (Tregs), which regulate the immune system in the blood. This helps to keep the body’s immune response stable, suppressing the autoimmune reaction and, in the case of type 1 diabetes, preventing the body from sabotaging insulin production by destroying the insulin-producing beta cells.

Combatting type 1: What we have learned from stems cells trials

A 2015 immunotherapy trial in the US aimed to prevent the development and progression of type 1 diabetes in 14 patients through Treg intervention. The Treg trial led to successful phase one results and, one year after the infusion, 25% of the infused cells were still detectable in the circulation of all 14 participants.

Recent findings from the University of Florida have established that harvesting Tregs from umbilical cord blood is safer, more efficient and potentially more effective than taking the cells from blood that circulates through the body. Researchers concluded that as these cells existed before the disease was triggered, they are not so likely to be distorted by its chronic autoimmune attack. Establishing that Tregs from umbilical cord blood can be preserved at ultra-low temperatures and later propagated is significant because it gives patients the potential benefit of using their own cells if type 1 diabetes develops in the future.

Key to these approaches is protecting the healthy beta cells from being attacked by the immune system once they are introduced into the body. One method of delivery currently being investigated is the placement of the stem cells into protective capsules. The capsules are porous and allow small molecules such as glucose and insulin to pass through, while protecting the beta cells from the cells of the immune system. In 2017, the first cohort of type 1 diabetes patients began receiving cell replacement implants as part of a clinical trial carried out by the University of Alberta, Edmonton and the San Diego School of Medicine’s Altman Clinical Trials Research Institute. The trial’s aim is to show evidence of effectiveness of this form of stem cell therapy by the measurement of the production of insulin in patients who at the time of enrolment had little or no ability to produce insulin.

Type 1 diabetes is on the rise in the UAE, where the number of children with the condition has doubled since 2000. For expectant parents, the facility to store umbilical cord blood when your child is born could help to reverse this trend in the future.

Type 1 diabetes is on the rise in the UAE, where the number of children with the condition has doubled since 2000.

 The ultimate gift for your child

Diabetes is one of the biggest challenges currently facing the medical world but stem cell research is showing very promising signs of producing a solution. For parents, the opportunity to store your newborn baby’s umbilical cord blood represents a way to bank potentially life-saving cells that could make the difference in treating and even curing this health problem should it arise later in your child’s life. What better investment could there be for you and your family?












Smart Cells is the UK’s first private cord blood storage company, helping parents from across the world take the pioneering decision to store the stem cells of their babies for greater security of health. For more information on umbilical cord blood banking or to organise a consultation, please click here to find the number of the office nearest to you, email us on UAE@smartcells.com, or click here.


 About the author: Shamshad Ahmed, CEO and Founder of Smart Cells International.
Shamshad Ahmed is CEO and Founder of Smart Cells International Ltd. Opening in 2000, Smart Cells became the UK’s first private cord blood company – its goal to give parents more access to potentially life-saving treatment for their families. It is one of the UK’s largest private banks, operating across the globe and storing over 50,000 cord blood samples from people in over 70 countries. Shamshad started his career in finance and foreign exchange at Citibank before moving over to the world of clinical trials. He holds a BA from Nottingham Trent University, and he has been a member of the Young President’s Organization since 2008 – having served on the board for a number of those years.


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