Position on Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) supports research using embryonic stem cells within the framework of appropriate scientific and ethical guidelines. The cells must have been derived from embryos donated with appropriate informed consent, from embryos created for reproductive purposes and in excess of clinical need, and the donation must not have involved financial inducements.
Embryonic stem cells come from excess fertilized eggs that are discarded at in vitro fertility clinics. Researchers believe that embryonic stem cells, which can replicate themselves indefinitely, may be used to grow new tissue that will become the 'missing link' needed to cure some of the world's most debilitating illnesses and conditions, including Juvenile Diabetes.
Federal funding is critically important to this research. Without it, the country's top academic researchers - employed at research universities, medical schools and teaching hospitals that rely on federal research funds - will largely be unable to pursue this work. That means slower progress toward life-saving medical cures. Ensuring that research is not confined to the for-profit, commercial sector, and allowing the federal government to set ethical standards and advance peer-reviewed work that is subject to public oversight will prevent potential abuse of this type of research.
Promise of Stem Cell Research for Diabetes
Research on human "stem cells" holds the promise of a cure for diabetes. JDRF supports this area of research because of the recent discovery isolating stem cells; such cells could one day be stimulated to develop into pancreatic islet cells to replace those that have been destroyed in people with Juvenile Diabetes. Stem cells have the potential to develop into any tissue or organ in the body and yet cannot develop into a full human being. Moreover, these cells could be engineered in such a way that people who receive them might not need highly toxic immunosuppressive drugs, which prevent the body from rejecting "foreign" tissue-currently a major obstacle to successful islet transplantation.
Islet Cell Transplantation: A Possible Cure
Juvenile Diabetes is caused by the body's autoimmune destruction of its own insulin-producing islet cells. One of the most promising ways of curing diabetes is to restore biologically the function of islet cells. This could occur either through islet cell transplantation or through engineering of cells to restore the insulin secreting function. In both instances, the availability of stem cells would significantly expedite research progress.
Islet cell transplantation has two major obstacles: Insufficient islets available for transplantation, and recurrence of the autoimmune response that attacks the islets after transplantation.
The problem of insufficient supply of islet cells could potentially be solved through additional stem cell research. Because the cells being studied are so early in their developmental stage, scientists are hopeful they will be able to one day direct their development into any human tissue or organ. If and when scientists can specialize these cells to become insulin-producing islet cells, cell lines could be developed to produce an unlimited number of islet cells, even just a single primordial stem cell. This would effectively solve the islet cell supply problem.
In addition, in most cases, the immune system of a person with Juvenile Diabetes will not tolerate islet cell transplantation, even when an individual is given anti-rejection medications (which themselves can cause serious problems). Because stem cells are primordial all-purpose cells from which all tissues of the body develop, it may be possible to alter them genetically so that they will not be susceptible to an immune attack. This would negate the need for immunosuppression.
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