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AbledConditions Post banner shows Islets of Langerhans cells stained orange against a yellow filter under a micrscope. The text reads: AbledConditions: Diabetes: Islet Cell Transplants Offer New Hope For People With Type-1 Diabetes.

Two Human Clinical Trials Are Underway – Results Go To The FDA

 

Of the nearly 26 million Americans who are living with diabetes, 5% of them have Type 1 or what used to be called Juvenile Diabetes in which the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin. That insulin is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy.

 

A screengrab from an animated video by Blausen explaining diabetes. Click on the photo to open the video window.

 

Most Type 1 diabetics regulate their blood sugar levels by using injectable insulin in slow-release and/or fast-release forms. That’s why you may sometimes see someone injecting insulin into their abdomen or arm at a restaurant, because the fast-release insulin is usually taken around meal times.

 

Then there’s the tedious and painful process of having to prick the ends of fingers to check blood sugar levels with a glucose tester that uses disposable strips. There are even talking testers for blind diabetics.

 

A lot of research has been going on to find a better and easier way of providing the insulin and checking resulting glucose levels and it’s divided along two tracks: biological solutions and hardware/software solutions.

 

Some diabetics have been fitted with external insulin pumps that automatically monitor and regulate the blood glucose levels, and scientists are on the verge of a breakthrough in making an artificial pancreas. We’ll cover that in a related story.

 

In this report, we’ll deal with one of the promising advances in biological solutions, and while medical science is not quite at the stage where pancreas transplants are a viable option, the next best thing might be the transplantation of Islets of Langerhans cells, named for the 22 year-old German pathalogical anatomist who discovered them in the late 1800’s.

 

The islets are the parts of the pancreas that contain its hormone-producing endocrine cells, and there’s usually about a million of them in a healthy adult. The islets’ alpha cells produce the hormone glucagon, and their beta cells produce insulin, both instrumental in regulating the blood sugar levels in the body.

 

Graphic diagram by Bruce Blaus  shows the location of the pancreas in the human body just under the bottom central part of the ribcage. It also shows closeups of the pancreas and a further closeup of the islet cells .

Diagram by BruceBlausen

 

As CNN reports: In the 1990s, scientists in Alberta, Canada, figured out how to isolate these islets from a deceased donor’s pancreas and transplant them into the liver of a diabetic patient. The procedure was dubbed the “Edmonton Protocol.”

 

Since then, researchers have been trying to improve the survival rate of the cells during transplantation. Most patients who undergo the procedure now need two infusions of islet cells to maintain normal glucose levels long-term.

 

Dr. Michael Rickels, associate professor of medicine at University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues recently published a study in the journal Diabetes detailing a new protocol, which gives the extracted islets three days to “rest” before they’re transferred to the living recipient. All of the patients in Rickels’ study were able to come off insulin therapy for at least a year after a single transplant.

 

Data from patients in other countries where the procedure has already been approved shows some patients can stop using insulin for anywhere from five to 10 years.

 

Read the complete story at CNN and meet two people whose lives have been changed by a young man’s decision to be an organ donor and how it facilitated an islet transplant operation.

 

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