Babies' umbilical cords may be key to preventing diabetes
Australian researchers are conducting a world-first study to try to prevent the onset of type 1 diabetes by treating children with their own umbilical cord blood.
They hope the blood, rich in stem cells and immune cells, will help reboot the immune systems of children at risk of the condition, which occurs when the body attacks and kills its own insulin-producing cells, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Mark Kirkland, the medical director of Cell Care and a co-investigator for the study, said worldwide about one in every 2000 to 2500 people with cord blood stored used it, partly because it was an emerging industry and the blood might not be useful for many years.
"It's one of these catch-22 situations that people are storing cord blood in the hope that it will be a future therapy, but a lot of the diseases you are hoping to treat with cord blood won't happen in that population for years or even decades," the paper quoted Associate Professor Kirkland as saying.
The study leader, Maria Craig, said type 1 diabetes had an enormous impact on the children who developed it.
More than 3000 children are born each year who have a first degree relative with type 1 diabetes, putting them at an increased risk of developing it.
Craig, a paediatric endocrinologist at the Children's Hospital at Westmead, said children aged between one and 12 who have a close relative with the condition and cord blood stored with the private bank Cell Care Australia would be eligible to participate in the study.
Families that chose to bank the blood now would also be eligible to participate once the children were 12 months old, he said.
The children will be screened for antibodies that indicate they are at risk of type 1 diabetes, and those with two or more could enrol in the study.
Other conditions where there was hope for future cord blood use included multiple sclerosis and stroke, and studies were currently underway overseas looking at using cord blood to treat congenital deafness and brain trauma.
The research team hope to screen between 600 and 800 children, of whom about 3 per cent are likely to be eligible to participate in the study, which will be run through the Kids Research Institute at the Children's Hospital at Westmead.