Diabetics get transplanted cells and eliminate the need for insulin shots

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The first international test of a method using transplanted pancreas cells in diabetes patients has shown some success.

The technique which was first revealed in 2000, has become known as the Edmonton protocol, and uses processed pancreas islets derived from dead donors, to produce the insulin needed to process blood sugar in severe Type 1 diabetes patients.

The trial, led by University of Alberta researcher Dr. James Shapiro, eliminated the need for insulin in some diabetes patients, but for many the benefit was only a short term one.

Dr. Shapiro says the processed cells were tested on 36 severe case patients in North America and Europe in order to gauge how well the transplanted islets would function in regulating blood sugars.

While 44 per cent of the transplant recipients no longer needed insulin injections a year after their final treatment, 28 per cent had only partial islet function and the benefit did not persist indefinitely in most cases.

Dr. Shapiro says the transplanted cells appeared to stop working because not enough survived the initial transplant.

However, individuals with functioning islets had improved control of their diabetes, even though they still needed to take insulin shots.

Type 1 diabetes affects up to 2 million Americans, it is usually diagnosed in young people and can increase the risk for many major illnesses such as heart attacks, stroke and kidney disease.

The researchers say more work is needed before the technique approaches the success rate of an entire pancreas transplant, where the success rate is 50 to 70 percent even after five years.

Both techniques are risky because patients must then take drugs that suppress the immune system which can have serious side effects.

Shapiro says this is the first time a multicentre, international trial has been done in islet research and shows that islet transplantation can be very successful in protecting against hypoglycemic unawareness.

The research is published in the current edition of The New England Journal of Medicine.

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