Diabetes is a chronic illness that effects millions of people all over the world. It destroys lives, making it impossible to eat or even function without obsessively monitoring blood sugar levels. For many people it marks the beginning of an inevitable early death, as the body becomes increasingly unable to receive nutrition from the food that is eaten, circulation is reduced, and quality of life suffers in catastrophic ways.

Until recently, diabetes has been viewed by medical experts as incurable. But recent explorations in the field of regenerative medicine are showing that diabetes may not be as impossible to cure as once thought. Adipose stem cell therapy for diabetes is giving hope to many people who once believed that they would be stuck with this disease forever.


Diabetes interferes with the bodys ability to produce insulin. Insulin is what manages the levels of glucose (sugar) in the body, ensuring that sugar is delivered to the muscles, brain, liver, and fat cells. In a diabetic, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to carry out this vital regulation function, or the body does not respond to the insulin that is produced. This means the sugar stays in the blood, interfering with metabolism and other vital functions while depriving the brain, muscles, and liver of essential nutrition.

The exact cause of diabetes is unknown. Type 1 diabetes, characterized by a lack of insulin, may be caused by genetics, autoimmune disorders, and viruses. Type 2 diabetes, characterized by an inability to utilize insulin, may be caused by genetic, environmental, dietary, and lifestyle factors.

Permanently curing people of diabetes with conventional means has proven very challenging. Type 2 diabetics often respond to a drastic shift in lifestyle and eating habits, and cutting out all sugars and refined flours, but blood sugar levels must still be managed for a persons entire life.

The other attempted treatments such as pancreas transplantation have offered minimal results because of immune system responses. Even when pancreas transplants have been successful, the person must take immune system suppressing drugs for his or her entire life, which leaves that person susceptible to other diseases and infections and can be as inconvenient as the diabetes protocol had been.

Using Adipose Stem Cell Therapy to Treat Diabetes

Stem cell therapy is very promising for diabetes treatment. Rather than switching a diseased organ for a new healthier one, stem cell therapy seeks to inspire the pancreas to regenerate itself. This type of therapy also strives to modulate the immune system and encourage the body to remember how to produce, utilize, and regulate insulin.

Adipose stem cells in particular are being explored for diabetes treatments. Drawn from fat cells, adipose stem cells have been shown to have the ability to differentiate into (become) pancreatic endocrine cells when manipulated in the appropriate growth medium.

Studies done with adipose stem cells in diabetic subjects has shown an increase in pancreatic developmental transcription factors as well as the essential pancreatic hormones insulin, glucagon, and somatostatin. The cells that were affected by this procedure demonstrated increased insulin production in response to greater exposure to glucose. This means that the stem cell treatments increased the subjects ability to both produce and utilize the chemicals responsible for blood sugar metabolism and distribution.

Autologous adipose stem cells are particularly well suited to healing diabetes because they have immunosuppressive properties. One of the main challenges with most types of transplants and other diabetes treatments is that the immune system usually attacks whatever helpful implants are added to the pancreas. Even other types of stem cells can trigger this immune response, especially if they come from a donor and not directly from the intended recipient.

But adipose-derived stem cell treatments modulate the functioning of the immune system so that those self-attacking reactions are disabled without interfering with the immune systems other functions such as protecting the body from disease.

Autologous adipose stem cells can be easily harvested, either directly from the fat layer just below the skin or as a by-product of liposuction procedures. Unlike bone marrow stem cells, the other extremely versatile type of stem cells, adipose stem cells do not require an invasive procedure to extract. They are also a significantly more abundant source of stem cells than bone marrow, which means that treatments with them can use a higher concentration of stem cells with a greater likelihood of implantation success.

Treating diabetes with adipose stem cells is still a new procedure, and there is a lot of uncertainty about how the body will respond in the long run. But thus far the evidence is very promising. What was recently considered an incurable life-long disease that would shorten and decrease the quality of life of anyone afflicted with it may now be treatable. It may even be possible that diabetes can someday be cured by using adipose stem cells regenerative cells drawn from the fat cells of the body.


Science Direct
National Institutes of Health