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Back To Vidyya Severe Diabetic Problems End When Patients Receive Transplanted Cells

New England Journal Of Medicine Early Release

Transplanting insulin-producing cells into severely ill diabetic patients has been successful in stopping blackouts and ending the need for injections of insulin, a team of researchers reported Tuesday.

Their findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which released the study more than a month early because of its "potential therapeutic implications."

The researchers conducted their study on eight patients who had severe, long-term cases of Type 1 diabetes, often called juvenile-onset diabetes. Each had a history of metabolic instability and comas from very low blood sugar, the researchers said. They were being treated with insulin injections.

After the cell transplants, however, all the patients showed "sustained insulin independence," meaning they no longer required insulin injections. They have remained insulin-free for at least a year since the study.

Lead author Dr. James Shapiro of the University of Alberta in Canada called the results a "major step forward" in the treatment of diabetes.

To conduct their study, the researchers refined a technique that has been tried in the past.

They used a new process to harvest islet cells, which produce insulin, from donor pancreases and injected them via a catheter into the livers of the seven patients. They also gave the study subjects new types of anti-rejection drugs to prevent rejection of the transplanted cells.

The combination of a new harvesting procedure for the islet cells and the different class of immunosuppressant drugs is what made this study so successful, they said.

Although complications in the patients studied were minor, the possibility of long-term side effects isn't known. Moreover, the donor cells can be difficult to obtain, since each patient requires cells from at least two pancreases, researchers said.

Because of those factors, Shapiro said the procedure would be limited to people with severe Type 1 diabetes who have "devastating complications" like comas and blackouts which can be more dangerous than the potential risks of the transplant.

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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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