Canadian scientists were able to reverse diabetes in mice with a human stem cell transplant, igniting hopes for a cure for the widespread disease -- caused by the failure of the pancreas to produce enough insulin to stabilize blood sugar levels -- in humans.

A paper outlining the work, led by Timothy Kieffer of the University of British Columbia and conducted in partnership with New Jersey-based company BetaLogics, appeared in the journal Diabetes on Tuesday.

Diabetic mice were weaned off of insulin after receiving the pancreatic stem cell transplant, which restarted the cycle in which insulin production rises or falls based on blood sugar levels. Three to four months later, the mice could maintain healthy blood sugar levels even after being fed a lot of sugar.

We are very excited by these findings, but additional research is needed before this approach can be tested clinically in humans, Kieffer said in a statement on Tuesday.

The researchers cautioned that their study used mice that had a suppressed immune system, the better to prevent rejection of the transplanted cells.

We now need to identify a suitable way of protecting the cells from immune attack so that the transplant can ultimately be performed in the absence of any immunosuppression, Kieffer said.

In 2009, a different team of researchers led by scientists from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil and Northwestern University reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association that they were able to successfully reverse type 1 diabetes by injecting 8 patients with some of their own stem cells.

Some studies have shown that this kind of stem cell transplantation is only a temporary fix - after anywhere between six months to three years, the insulin-producing cells are again attacked by the patient's immune system.

SOURCE: Rezania et al. Maturation of Human Embryonic Stem Cell-Derived Pancreatic Progenitors into Functional Islets Capable of Treating Pre-existing Diabetes in Mice. Diabetes 27 June 2012.