We R the Cure

Seeking Cures and Cheating Destiny

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The Hope And The Promise Of Stem Cells And Other Cell Therapies

Type 1 diabetes destroys the cells in the pancreas which produce insulin. Scientists across the world believe regeneration — finding ways to restore or spike insulin production in Type 1D patients — is possible.

Juan Dominguez-Bendala, Ph.D, Diabetes Research Institute

Juan Dominguez-Bendala, Ph.D., of DRI, believes umbilical cord cells may hold more potential for success in diabetes research than originally thought.

Recently, at the JDRF-sponsored Research Summit in Maryland, Juan Domínguez-Bendala, Ph.D., Director of Stem Cell Development for Translational Research at the Diabetes Research Institute, gave the keynote address on the “Promise of Stem Cells and Cell Therapies.” I was impressed that Dr. Dominguez-Bendala balanced the hype and controversy that normally surrounds Embryonic Stem Cell debate with the need to find multiple cell pathways that may lead to regeneration breakthroughs. I agree with this approach. Why put all of our “eggs”  in one basket, pardon my pun. Let’s aggressively pursue all possibilities!

What follows is an edited transcript of DRI’s podcast with Dr. Dominguez-Bendala. The entire podcast is available on DRI’s site.

“Stem cells have two unique properties. One of them is that they keep dividing all the time so you can get them to expand in very significant numbers. So in a very short period of time you can get as many as you need to treat all the patients that you may want to treat. The other property that they have is that they are like a blank slate. They are naïve. They are simply waiting for instructions to become something. They are waiting to be programmed to become one tissue or another.”

Dominguez-Bendala says that until recently, most research has focused on embryonic stem cells. But now the DRI is studying other types – such as umbilical cord and amniotic stem cells. He says umbilical cord cells could hold more potential than originally thought – and that a specific sub-population of cord cells could, in fact, turn into insulin producing cells.

“If that was the case, then we have another source which is less controversial from many points of views um, than embryonic stem cells and is easily accessible. We can get them all the time from any delivery room in any hospital of the country.”

He says the challenge with cord cells is that they do not grow as quickly or as easily as embryonic stem cells. As for amniotic stem cells, the DRI is collaborating with Dr. Anthony Atala of Wake Forest University, who found these cells have the ability to become many different cell types.

“To date, we still don’t have evidence that they can become pancreatic, but what we know is that we can expand them exactly as we do expand embryonic stem cells so they are very easy to work with and they may have the potential to become pancreatic. So we are very excited about that possibility of using them, but this is brand new.”

As Dominguez-Bendala and his team pursue these exciting possibilities, he says he’s grateful he’s able to do it at the DRI.

“The uniqueness of the Institute is that we have a multidisciplinary team, we are not going to get a cure for type 1 diabetes only from one angle. We need to take care of the autoimmune response, we need to take care of the supply, we need to take care of all the intermediate steps from bench to bedside.”


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Profiles In Courage: Country Singer, Elite Ironman Triathlete Call Diabetes Their Inspiration For Success

AN ENCORE BLOG POST (from April 2012) — Profiles In Courage for your summer reading.

It’s what you might call “ironic” or perhaps it’s a family bond among all Type 1 Ds.

Country singer George Canyon and Ironman Triathlete Jay Hewitt came to Richmond recently to share their inspirational stories with the diabetes community. I don’t know if the Canadian singer and the United States athlete know each other or if they’ve ever met. But as the two men told their stories of living and winning with diabetes last March, they reached a surprisingly similar conclusion.

Country Singer George Canyon and We R the Cure Editor Mike Anderson

Country Singer George Canyon, left, and Mike Anderson at March 24 event in Richmond. Canyon said Type 1 diabetes is not an excuse for failing to achieve your dreams in life. George has a new single coming out soon, “Live Life First,” with American Idol’s Crystal Bowersox. Song is produced by AI’s Randy Jackson.

“Do I wish that I didn’t have Type 1 diabetes? Absolutely,” George told a group of children, teen-agers, parents and young adults at the Animas Caregivers seminar in Glen Allen. “But I also think it is why I’ve been successful. I call it a goal-oriented disease. You set goals and you hit them; and you live your dreams.

“The kids I meet with diabetes are the most-driven kids I’ve ever met. We grow up and take responsibility at an early age. Your diabetes won’t stand in your way as long as you believe,” George said.

Just listen to Jay Hewitt, member of the U.S. National team, on his journey from a first-time marathon runner to a world class athlete, who also happens to have Type 1 diabetes.

“High achievers understand that this is a part of life. Your worst moments can be your best opportunities for success,”  Jay said to guests attending the Insulet/ Omnipod reception on March 15 in Richmond. “Diabetes is the best thing that ever happened to me. Am I saying that I’d rather have it than NOT have it? No. Of course not. But the cure is coming. And until it happens, it’s up to me to stay healthy.

“We drag our diabetes with us each step of every day. It’s a ball and chain. So ‘my diabetes’ better be able to swim because I’m going to drown it. It better be able to ride a bike because I’m going to pound it on the street. I will use every cell, every calorie, every ounce of energy that I have to win my race. And no matter how tired I am when I cross the finish line, I always have enough left to turn around and STEP DOWN HARD ON THE NECK of Diabetes. You must make diabetes the best thing that has ever happened to you. Use it as motivation.”

George and Jay gave positive testimony during their Richmond visits. They are “Profiles In Courage” and I thank them for showing us how to live, thrive and make no excuses. We R not Victims. We R the Cure. I recommend you check out George Canyon’s Facebook Page and Jay’s Finish Line Vision website. Also take a listen to George’s music on his You Tube page.

U.S. National Triathlete Jay Hewitt Keeps A Finish Line Vision

Elite Ironman Jay Hewitt has a Finish Line Vision for his life and his Type 1 diabetes.

I am the newest member of their fan clubs! Stay tuned for more from George and Jay’s visits in upcoming We R the Cure blog posts.