Islet Cell Transplant Can Replace Daily Insulin Shots

People with type one diabetes must rely on taking insulin shots every day just to survive. A procedure called an islet cell transplant can change that, but there are many obstacles.

The Eye on Health team shows you how a new twist on this experimental procedure may be better.

One of the greatest joys in Pam Dallmann's life is sharing a bowl of ice cream with her husband Bill. Sweets were off limits since her diabetes diagnosis at age six. Since then, Pam has lost her job, her driver's license and her vision in one eye.

She's suffered many low blood sugar episodes. "People would come in, my husband, and find me passed out on the floor."

She checked her blood sugar day and night. That was until her islet cell transplant.

Pam Dallman said, "The day that I was told that I didn't have to get up every two hours to check my blood sugar."

Islets are cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. They're destroyed in people with type one diabetes -- unless they get a transplant -- where donor cells are infused in the liver.

Dr. Bernhard Hering, with the University of Minnesota, explained, "Literally, the minute the islets are infused the problem is eliminated."

To get enough cells, a standard islet transplant involves using multiple deceased donors, which can be costly, risky and impractical.

With so few donors it would be impossible to treat everyone with the disease. But now, Dr. Hering is experimenting with using a single donor. It means fewer cells, but it's worked in the first eight patients.

"Islet cells can reverse diabetes not only for weeks and months but possibly for a lifetime," he continued. 

The most recent data shows every one of the eight patients were still insulin-free one year after having the transplant. Researchers in Japan are studying the procedure with living donors, which could make islet transplants available to even more patients.

Send your comments to Anchor Paula Francis or Medical Producer Rick Andrews.


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