Pancreas cell transplant helping type 1 diabetes sufferers with poor blood sugar control

by Sarita Sheth on September 18, 2012

Cells are extracted from a donor pancreas

A pioneering health programme to extract cells from a donor pancreas and inject them into the liver of someone with type 1 diabetes is proving to be hugely successful.

Twelve lives have been saved from life threatening cases of type one diabetes on the Scottish National Pancreatic Islet Transplant programme, it has been announced.

Scottish Health Secretary Alex Neil said that the programme has the potential to change lives for sufferers of type one diabetes who now face a better future in Scotland thanks to the operations.

Cell clusters are taken from a donor’s pancreas and injected direct into to the liver of someone with type one diabetes and afterwards patients only required a tiny amount of insulin to balance their body chemistry.

Indeed, in some cases, insulin injections are no longer needed at all and since being launched in 2009 the programme is increasingly being hailed as a huge success for those with poor blood sugar control.

‘In Scotland, we know that around 28,000 people currently have type 1 diabetes, with an estimated 2,000 not realising when their blood sugar level is low. This exciting programme has shown that it has the potential to transform the lives of people with this condition, and I hope it will continue to benefit many more patients in the future,’ said Neil.

‘The aim is to reduce the frequency of low blood sugars and give back the ability to recognise them. Although some patients may not achieve complete insulin independence, the treatment will dramatically reduce their dependence on insulin,’ he added.

John Casey, transplant surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and clinical lead for the Scottish Islet Transplant Programme, explained that all the staff in the islet programme are delighted to see the difference that this treatment has made to the lives of patients.

The first person to have the treatment was Kathleen Duncan who had type 1 diabetes for more than 30 years and had been injecting insulin up to four times a day.

‘Before this treatment I felt absolutely helpless, as I had no awareness of my blood sugar levels or if I was about to collapse,’ she said.

She explained that it affected her whole family and she often worried that her son would come home from school to find her unconscious.

‘My life has totally changed. I have more control over my diabetes, the confidence to do everyday things and can lead a practically normal life. My family are now more relaxed and don’t have to worry about me so much. I have my awareness back and no longer have to rely on insulin. I can tell if I am going to collapse and do something about it. I feel extremely lucky that matching donors were found and privileged to be the first person to have this treatment,’ she added.

Another patient, Stephen Fisher, 59, had lived with type one diabetes his whole life. He had severe complications with low blood sugar.

‘Since my transplants, it feels as though the lease has being taken off and the depression that goes along with chronic illness is now a past memory and I now feel I have the brightest of futures,’ he explained.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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