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Research explores link between stem cell transplant, diabetes

by Jan. 17, 2019, 3:34 PM

About a decade ago, at the beginning of his career in academic medicine, Brian Engelhardt, MD, MSCI, noticed that many of his patients receiving a stem cell transplant for their blood cancer ended up with diabetes.

A little digging revealed that his observations accurately represented reality.

Current studies estimate that as many as 50 percent of stem cell transplant recipients develop diabetes. Further, diabetes also dramatically increases the risk of death for these patients, although not via the cardiovascular and kidney complications normally associated with uncontrolled blood sugar.

“When you really look at the incidence of the disease and its effect on transplant outcomes, it’s actually a very big problem,” said Engelhardt, associate professor of Medicine in Vanderbilt’s Division of Hematology and Oncology.

Engelhardt also found this problem has very few accepted answers. No one knows how stem cell transplantation leads to diabetes or why diabetes has such a negative outcome in many stem cell transplant patients.

Engelhardt was determined to answer these questions. An interdisciplinary team consisting of experts in diabetes, immunology, endocrine surgery and transplantation is empowering Engelhardt’s research to fully investigate the transplant-diabetes link.