Mesenchymal Stem Cells in the Treatment of Diabetes

By Karen Lui

Diabetes mellitus is one of the most serious non communicable diseases, affecting approximately 463 million adults worldwide in 2019, and expected to rise to 578 million by 2030.

In Malaysia alone, the prevalence of diabetes mellitus ranges from 7.3%-23.8%. This is a very serious statistic, as it puts these individuals at a high risk of developing a multitude of complications, such as heart disease, stroke, increased blood pressure, narrowing of vessels (atherosclerosis) and nerve damage (neuropathy). In addition, diabetes can affect every organ in the body.

How Diabetes is Treated?

To date, there is currently no cure for diabetes. While some opt for the standard treatment of anti-diabetic medication, the body will gradually develop resistance and they will eventually have to start using insulin injections. However, in recent years, researchers have recognised that there is an exciting and great potential in using mesenchymal stem cells for the treatment of diabetes.

Mesenchymal Stem Cells in the Treatment of Diabetes

Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are multipotent stem cells that have the ability to self renew and exhibit multilineage differentiation. In the context of diabetes, MSCs are able to regenerate pancreatic islet beta cells, protect endogenous pancreatic islet beta cells from apoptosis, and ameliorate insulin resistance of peripheral tissues. In this way, they are an extremely promising treatment in diabetes.


What is the Therapeutic Potential of Mesenchymal Stem Cells for Diabetes?

Over 15 trials currently registered on have demonstrated that MSCs have shown tolerable safety and efficacy in treating diabetes.

Usage of MSCs in diabetes have shown that patients showed improved glycemic control, improved HBA1C values, and reduced insulin requirements. Treatment with MSCs during the early phase of disease have been shown to restore beta cell function, ameliorate the destruction of pancreatic cells, regenerate the damaged cells, and MSCs can reduce insulin resistance in the body.


Insulin resistance leads to chronic, low grade inflammation in the body, and can also lead to obesity and other complications of diabetes. Hence, addressing and treating the insulin resistance is an extremely important aspect of treatment of diabetes. MSCs alleviate insulin resistance by regulating the expression of genes in peripheral insulin target tissues.

In conclusion, results available from the studies are encouraging, and MSCs are a promising mode of treatment for patients with diabetes to achieve better control of the illness, thus improving quality of life.

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