Scottish government hails diabetes transplant programme

by Mark Benson on September 17, 2012

Can Type 1 diabetic patients wave good bye to all of this?

The Scottish government, in the shape of Scottish Health Secretary Alex Neil, has today highlighted a groundbreaking procedure which has saved the lives of 12 diabetes type I sufferers in Scotland. This is an innovative look into potential future treatments for diabetics and the results so far have been very encouraging indeed. The fact that Scotland, like so many other areas of the UK, is on the verge of a diabetic explosion seems to have jolted the authorities into action to the relief of many diabetes sufferers.

Background to the treatment

One of the main issues which has been discussed time and time again with regards to type I diabetes is the fact that more and more people are now struggling to recognise the frequency of low blood sugar episodes. This is a phenomenon which more and more sufferers are complaining about and the very fact that if they do not know that their blood sugar is low then what can you do about the situation?

The ability to recognise a potential episode in the life of a diabetic is vital to enable them to take fairly simple and evasive action which could save their lives. It all sounds very simple, it all looks very simple but if the basic ability to recognise low blood sugar levels is taken away then this can be fatal in some situations. Thankfully progress has been made with regards to transplant programmes which we will cover below.

Groundbreaking treatment

The Scottish National Pancreatic Islet Transplant programme involves a cluster of cells being extracted from a donor’s pancreas and then injected into the liver of somebody with type I diabetes. Scientists are not 100% sure exactly how the transplant works but apparently those who had been suffering from type I diabetes for many years can see a massive improvement in their condition almost immediately.

The simple fact is that the transplant gives back sufferers the ability to recognise a potential episode and indeed tests have shown that after the transplant some patient only require a tiny amount of insulin to balance blood sugar levels while others, albeit fairly rare situations, have found that insulin injections are no longer required. This is obviously excellent news for those who have suffered from this debilitating condition for some time and indeed it does give hope for the future with regards to new treatments and new transplant programmes.

However, the authorities are very keen to play down this particular program as a cure for diabetes because that is not the case at this moment in time. Great progress has been made, further progress is expected but this is a very complex and a very complicated medical condition which has puzzled the minds of some of the greatest scientists and researchers in recent times. There is no one cure fits all for diabetes, there is no one transplant fits all and while this development will assist many people there is still much work to be done.

The knock-on effect

A number of patients who underwent the transplant by the Scottish healthcare system have been commenting upon the enormous change this has made to their lives. It is not only the fact that some of them no longer require insulin injections, or at worse require less insulin than before, but it is also the fact that it has assisted in coping with a number of side effects.

It is common knowledge, and certainly no surprise for many people, that depression can be a major concern for those suffering from type I diabetes and type II diabetes. It is very easy to fall into a rut, see dark clouds above you every morning and struggle to come to terms with what can be a life changing condition. However, a number of sufferers have discussed openly how the cloud of depression has lifted with this transplant programme and they feel as though they have “got their lives back”. Surely that is worth every penny invested into the program?

What does this mean for future treatments?

While the fact is that not every potential treatment and potential cure will be open to every diabetic the reality is that slowly but surely enormous progress is being made. The transplant of a “cluster” of donor pancreas cells seems to be having a major impact upon those receiving this treatment. When you take into account that type II diabetes is more commonplace than type I diabetes perhaps you would argue more focus should be placed upon type II diabetes but what can we learn from this treatment for future sufferers of type II diabetes?

Slowly but surely researchers are continuing to piece together this very complex and very difficult to understand medical condition. There are literally hundreds of millions of people around the world who are suffering from diabetes and many more who are unaware they are actually on the verge of developing the condition or in some cases have actually developed it already. The more work that researchers and scientists can do in the short to medium term more hope there will be for those who will suffer, and it will be many, from the development of diabetes in the future.

Why do different patients react differently?

While a number of factors are becoming clearer about diabetes one of the major findings is that certain treatments and certain procedures prompt very different reactions in different patients. It is becoming more obvious with each study, as we suggested above, that there is no one cure fits all for diabetes and progress will be slow and possibly painful for some people in the short to medium term.

We’ve also seen a number of other medical conditions which are very strongly attached to diabetes, both type I and type II, and scientists are trying to unravel these connections. The more they can learn about the underlying condition the more chance of a cure and better treatments in the future. Every pound spent on research today will be repaid many times over in the future, if the doomsday scenarios are anywhere near true with regards to the development of diabetes amongst the worldwide population.

Now is the time to take chances, now is the time to look down different avenues and now is the time to come up with innovative ideas just as the Scottish National Health Service has this week.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com 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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