The cover of the November 14, 2003 Science features a stunning photograph of earth from space, as seen from Apollo 17 in 1972. It boasts the bold headline, ‘State of the Planet.. Inside is a landmark Harvard study where researchers were able to permanently cure type 1 diabetes in mice by injecting them with spleen cells and a protein to tame the immune system.
In type 1 diabetes, the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas have been destroyed by one.s own immune system (autoimmunity). The injected spleen cells functioned as stem cells, and rapidly reproduced into new pancreas cells in the mice. The mice were soon able to produce their own insulin, and they had permanent, normal blood sugars without any further treatment. This is a dramatic example of being able to regenerate a major organ in an adult mammal.
The injection both turned off the autoimmunity and regenerated the pancreas. Researchers also tested another injection that just turned off the autoimmunity. The pancreas still regenerated, but far more slowly. This opens up exciting possibilities! First on the agenda is to see if this revolutionary treatment will work in humans. If it proves effective, this will be a home run in its own right . and will raise the possibility of using a similar technique to cure other devastating autoimmune diseases.