Treatment aims to cure type-1 diabetes

May 4, 2011 9:48:31 AM PDT
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells. Patients with type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily to live. However, there is a new treatment option for patients with type 1 diabetes called islet transplantation.

THE TREATMENT: Islet cells make up one to two percent of the pancreas and are responsible for insulin production. In islet transplantation, islet cells are taken from a deceased donor's pancreas and injected into the patient's liver via a catheter. The patient usually receives 10,000 islet equivalents per kilogram of body weight, an amount, which usually requires two donors. After the transplant, the patient must take immunosuppressive drugs, or anti-rejection drugs. These drugs prevent the patient's immune system from recognizing the new islet cells as foreign (SOURCE:

Ideally, after islet transplantation, the patient will be able to control blood glucose levels without regular injections of insulin; effectively, they will be cured of type 1 diabetes. In the University of Alberta's 2005 follow up study of patients who had undergone islet transplantation in 2000, 10 percent of the 65 patients remained "insulin independent" five years after the transplant. Though most of the patients did return to insulin injections, researchers found that many of them were able to decrease the amount of insulin they needed (SOURCE:

DRAWBACKS: Islet transplantation still has a number of obstacles to overcome before it becomes widespread. One of the major problems with islet transplantation is a lack of islets. Even though about 7,000 people donate their organs every year in the U.S., fewer than half of the donated pancreases are suitable for the harvesting of islets. With most islet transplants requiring islets from two different donors, this makes islet transplants available for a very small fraction of the people with type 1 diabetes. However, researchers are working on ways to circumvent the problem by transplanting islet cells from living donors, animals such as pigs or monkeys, or creating islet cells out of stem cells (SOURCE:


Amer Rajab, M.D., Ph.D.
The Ohio State University
Columbus, OH