UK stem cell centre to play major role in international trial to combat diabetic kidney disease

by Barbara Hewitt on October 21, 2015

The UK’s National Health Service is to start producing stem cells for a ground breaking treatment in a new international trial aimed at combating diabetic kidney disease.

NHS Blood and Transplant will produce a special type of stem cell, known as stromal stem cells, for administration to diabetic patients in England and Northern Ireland who are taking part in an international clinical trial.

stem-cellThe work will take part at a bioreactor in Liverpool to expand samples of around 20 million stromal cells up to around 800 million cells ready for use in patients.

Stromal stem cells can differentiate into a variety of connective cell types, for example bone cells, cartilage cells, and fat cells. However, they also have the ability to help regulate the body’s immune responses.

Specific doses of stromal cells will be injected into the bloodstream of diabetic patients to try and slow down or stop the progression of diabetic kidney disease by better regulating the body’s response.

Diabetic patients have high levels of blood sugar, which can lead to a series of reactions that cause the body to reduce blood supply to the kidney, killing off kidney. Diabetic kidney disease cannot be cured.

The UK patients taking part in the trial will be treated at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. The first training runs for stem cell production in Liverpool are due to start this month and the first treatments are due in 2016.

Dr Eric Austin, head of Stem Cell Immunotherapy at the Advanced Therapy Unit within the Stem Cells and Immunotherapies department at NHS Blood and Transplant’s site in Speke, Liverpool, described it as an exciting project.

“The treatment has the potential to lead to life saving outcomes for a major illness. We will be using NHS Blood and Transplant’s expertise in cellular and molecular therapy and our extensive scientific and transport network to play a key role in this international trial,” sayd Austin.

Professor Timothy O’Brien, the project leader, and director of the Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI) at the National University of Ireland Galway, explained that healthcare systems are facing a huge task in managing the complications caused by ever increasing numbers of patients with type 2 diabetes.

“Chief among such complications will be kidney disease, which has a huge financial cost in terms of current treatments, and takes a massive personal toll on patients. Diabetes is currently the most common cause of end stage kidney disease resulting in the need for dialysis or transplantation,” said O’Brien. “We are confident that by harnessing the most modern approaches in stromal cell therapeutics there may well be a way to halt the progression of diabetic kidney disease using this therapy.”

The results will be measured in terms of improvements in kidney performance as measured by urine and blood samples. If successful, researchers will see the disease significantly slowed or halted altogether.

Professor Giuseppe Remuzzi, from the Istituto Di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri in Italy, will lead the clinical trial across the four centres.

“The clinical experience with stromal cells is still in its infancy, mainly focused on developing novel therapeutic solutions for patients with bone marrow or organ transplantation as well as for those with a small number of autoimmune diseases,” said Remuzzi. “NEPHSTROM is a small but intensively studied clinical trial which will allow determination of the effective dose, and how they might function to protect the diabetic kidney.”

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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