Human stem cells promote healing of diabetic ulcers

Treatment of chronic wounds is a continuing clinical problem and socio-economic burden with diabetic foot ulcers alone costing the NHS £300 million a year. Scientists in Bristol have found that human foetal stem cells can effectively be used to treat back leg ischaemic ulcers in a model of type 1 diabetes.

The researchers also found the culture in which the stem cells had been grown mimicked the wound-healing ability of the cells, suggesting that they could be used as a "factory" of wound-healing substances. Alternatively, the active ingredients in the culture, once identified, could be used instead; this would avoid the ethical concerns of using human foetal stem cells.

In humans, diabetic patients with ischaemic foot ulcers have the worst outcome of all chronic skin wounds, with higher amputation and mortality rates than patients carrying non-ischaemic ulcers. Topical gels containing single growth factors have recently been used with some success in non-ischaemic ulcers, but have been unsuccessful in ischaemic ulcers, which are also resistant to other conventional treatment. Ischaemia results when the blood supply to a tissue is greatly reduced or stopped – this can occur in diabetes since it can also cause impaired blood flow in patients.

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