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NHS experts are about to test a new groundbreaking treatment for diabetic kidney disease that could potentially save thousands of lives a year.

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

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

During the tests 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.

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, said: “This is an exciting project for us to be involved with – especially as the treatment has the potential to lead to life saving outcomes for a major illness.

NHS Blood and Transplant will use a bioreactor at its Liverpool site to expand samples of around 20m stromal cells up to around 800m cells, ready for use in patients.

Diabetic kidney disease is one of the biggest increasing problems facing the NHS and a major cause of sickness and death in the EU.

There are 2.7 million people diagnosed with diabetes in England, a number that is increasing by about 5% per year.

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 tissue.

Professor Timothy O’Brien, the project leader, and director of the Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI) at the National University of Ireland Galway, said: “If predictions prove correct, then our healthcare systems are facing a huge task in managing the complications caused by ever-increasing numbers of patients with diabetes mellitus.

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