New islet transplantation for patients with Type 1 diabetes

A team led by Dr Richard Smith, Consultant Senior Lecturer in Renal Medicine at North Bristol NHS Trust and the University of Bristol, will offer a pioneering new treatment for some patients with Type 1 diabetes, the Department of Health announced today.

The Pancreatic Islet Transplant Programme was set up at Southmead Hospital five years ago to help people throughout the region suffering with hypoglycaemia, a severe complication of diabetes.

Southmead is one of six English hospitals to receive a share of £2.34 million that is due to be increased (nationally) to a maximum of £7.32million to meet the predicted annual need in the longer term.

People with diabetes find the amount of sugar in their blood is dangerously high and cannot produce enough insulin (a hormone produced by the pancreas) to counter this problem. The condition affects around 1.4 million people in the UK.

Whilst the majority of diabetes sufferers are able to keep their condition under control with regular exercise and insulin injections, a small minority find the same jabs actually make their blood sugar levels go too low with no warning.

As a result they can lose consciousness several times a day – putting incredible strain on themselves and their families.

The new treatment will offer patients a pancreatic islet transplant. Pancreatic islets are the insulin producing “factories” which normally keep blood sugar levels under control.

In patients with Type 1 diabetes they are destroyed allowing blood sugar levels to go out of control.

One new way to treat this is to purify the islets and inject them in to the liver. This can significantly improve blood sugar control and reduce the need for insulin injections.

It is expected in the first year of the programme, around four procedures will take place at NBT and this is expected to increase in future years as national funding is increased.

Dr Richard Smith said: “Today’s announcement really is great news and means that for the first time we will be able to undertake this procedure right here in Bristol.

“Thanks to the support from a number of charitable sources including the Bristol branch of Diabetes UK, North Bristol NHS Trust Charitable Funds, the Bristol Area Kidney Patients Association and Bristol City Football Club we have been able to contribute to establishment of this procedure in England and ensure that we are part of this exciting new development. 

“Until now we have not been able to perform our first transplant at Southmead Hospital.  With the award of this NHS funding we can be confident of performing our first transplants in the next year.

“This has been a long time coming and I am grateful to the Department of Health and the National Commissioning Group for granting us this designation and funding.

“The support myself and the team have received over the last five years has been phenomenal.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at NBT – especially the staff at Southmead’s Renal Unit and the diabetes staff at NBT and UBHT without whom this would not have happened.

“I would also like especially to thank the patients who have remained positive and committed to this programme despite what must have felt like very slow progress.  Hopefully their faith in this programme will now be rewarded.”

Today’s announcement really is great news and means that for the first time we will be able to undertake this procedure right here in Bristol.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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