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Cord blood used to ‘switch off’ type 1 diabetes

Australian toddler Lucy Hinchion is already a medical pioneer. Aged just 20 months, Lucy became the youngest ever recipient of an infusion of her own umbilical cord blood cells to “switch off” type 1 diabetes.

How can cord blood treat type 1 diabetes?

Cord blood is rich in regulatory T cells, which keep the immune system functioning properly. In diabetes type 1, the immune system attacks insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Doctors are optimistic that Lucy’s cord blood infusion will prevent her from developing type 1 diabetes at all.

Researchers hope that stored umbilical cord blood will become a groundbreaking type 1 diabetes treatment. Lucy’s operation is part of a five-year study at The Children’s Hospital in Sydney.

“We’re using the cord blood to switch off the immune process that has already commenced in Lucy and set her on the pathway to type-1 diabetes,” said Professor Maria Craig who is running the trial. “We believe the right strategy is to get in very early at this young age, when we have the greatest chance of success at resetting her immune system.”

Why store umbilical cord blood?

Lucy’s mother decided to store her daughter’s umbilical cord blood with the aim of one day helping her seven-year-old sister, Ava, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes aged three. Because the family had no history of diabetes, Ms Hinchin hadn’t stored Ava’s cord blood. However, when Lucy recently tested positive for two antibodies that indicate type 1 diabetes development, all of her frozen cord blood was used in a 20-minute procedure at the Children’s Hospital.

It might not be used today or tomorrow but it’s got a long shelf life. It can be stored for 18-24 years, I think. That’s a long time in science.

Ms Hinchion, Lucy’s mother, says that although Ava deals with her diabetes “beautifully” she has to check her blood glucose level multiple times throughout the day and diligently watch everything she eats. “Diabetes is 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she said.

“I think as treatments go, it is one of the easiest and most straightforward things you can do,” said Ms Hinchion. It was a “no-brainer” to help Lucy avoid diabetes “or at the very least, buy her a few years” and hopes other families will consider storing cord blood.

“It might not be used today or tomorrow but it’s got a long shelf life,” Ms Hinchion said. “It can be stored for 18-24 years, I think. That’s a long time in science.” In fact, umbilical cord blood can be stored indefinitely. Laboratories like that at Biovault Family store cord blood stem cells for 25 years, because the technology is relatively new and cell health hasn’t been tested far beyond this date range. After 25 years however, cells are as healthy as the day they are stored, making it probable that those who bank stem cells today will have the opportunity to preserve their sample for a much longer period.

Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are being widely explored in a number of studies to treat a range of  conditions, in addition to the 80 diseases already treated with cord blood such as leukaemia and lymphoma.

What’s the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

People with both types of diabetes have higher than normal blood sugar levels, but the cause and development of the condition are different.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that is usually diagnosed in childhood and is treated with insulin injections. In type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakes the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas as a threat. The immune system continues to attack these cells until the pancreas can no longer produce insulin, leaving the sufferer unable to regulate their own blood sugar levels without injecting insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is diagnosed much later in life and results from the body’s diminishing ability to produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes is associated with high cholesterol, blood pressure and obesity, all of which put a strain on the ability of the pancreas to produce beta cells and insulin.

An additional article of interest

Why Exercise Is Non-Negotiable For People With Diabetes


Lucy’s Story:

Diabetes Facts and Video:

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stem cell preservation

BSc (Hons) Microbiology

Chief Executive Officer | Biovault Family

Biovault Family CEO, Kate Sneddon, joined Biovault in July 2009 and became Chief Executive Officer in 2016. As health industry professional her experience includes working as a microbiologist and leader at GSK for over 10 years. Her expertise in cord blood banking has been recognised in her awards, features in Parliamentary Review and Parents Guide to Cord Blood, as well as contributions to research with UCL and others.

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