Just a few months ago, 21-year-old Jeff Spindler felt fine. But by March, Spindler was so weak he had to crawl to the refrigerator for food. He was urinating unusually frequently and was constantly thirsty.
The Louisville native was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a form of the disease that is usually found in children.
Spindler has learned to manage his disease with daily insulin injections, but he hopes his participation in a new research study could help keep his disease under control — and possibly lead to a cure.
On Wednesday, Spindler received his third and final injection of what could be adult stem cells at the University of Kentucky Hospital, becoming the first person in Kentucky to receive the treatment, which is being tested in a clinical trial.
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Spindler is the state's first participant in a national research project that is being conducted through Osiris Therapeutics, a company based in Maryland. Researchers are trying to determine whether injected adult stem cells can repair tissue damage and help the body produce insulin.
But Spindler won't find out for two years whether the injections he has been receiving contain stem cells or placebos. The study is double-blind, so even Spindler's physicians don't know which he's getting.
Dr. Dennis Karounos, endocrinologist and associate professor of medicine at UK, has overseen Spindler's treatment.
The trial tests a substance called Prochymal, which contains donated adult stem cells, not embryonic stem cells.
The Prochymal injections contain mesenchymal stem cells, bone-marrow cells that repair tissue damage, Karounos said.
To be eligible for the study, a patient must be between 18 and 30 years old and must be screened within two to six weeks of his initial Type 1 diabetes diagnosis, Karounos said.
Since the criteria are so exclusive, Karounos said, he and the other researchers have had trouble finding patients to participate.
"The whole idea is that someone who has just been diagnosed is more likely to respond to the therapy," he said.
Karounos said he sent letters asking for volunteer patients to every endocrinologist in the state.
Spindler was recommended by his physician in Louisville, Karounos said.
Now that Spindler has received his last injection, Karounos and other researchers will continue to monitor his health closely for the next two years.
Spindler said he hasn't felt much different after the treatments, but he is hopeful the outcome will be good.
"I wanted to help them out and help find a cure if possible," Spindler said.