Islet cell transplantation for type I diabetes

PHILADELPHIA (Ivanhoe Newswire/WTVM) - People with type I diabetes may develop complications from long-term use of insulin and develop hypoglycemia, or severe low blood sugar. Now researchers have developed a therapy that may help protect type I diabetics from this life-threatening condition.

Just a few years ago, a chronic condition caused Erika Totten's health to go downhill. Insulin no longer controlled her type I diabetes. She was severely hypoglycemic and would suffer side effects from low blood sugar without warning.

"My three-year-old daughter, if she hadn't told the policeman that 'mommy has bad sugar' he wouldn't have even known. He probably would have thought I was drunk driving because that's apparently what it looks like."

Michael Rickels, MD, MS, Associate Professor of Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, is studying a cutting edge therapy for severe type I diabetics; a transplant of special pancreatic cells.

Islet cells are removed from a donor pancreas, processed, and infused into a patient's liver. The islets contain cells that produce insulin. Doctors at Penn tested the procedure in a small number of patients.

"Two months from transplant, seven of the 11 patients were able to taper off their insulin therapy," Dr. Rickels explains.

Totten is one patient who is now insulin-free.  "It's a miracle. I don't know how else to explain it. It really has changed my life completely," she says.

Dr. Rickels says four of the patients needed a second infusion of islets before they were able to stop taking insulin. Transplant therapy for type I diabetes is still investigational. Dr. Rickels says long-term studies need to be completed so researchers can understand how long the results may last and what side effects can be anticipated.

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