Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, end-stage kidney failure, and leg amputations, and it also increases the risk for heart disease. Considered incurable, diabetes mellitus causes high blood sugar levels due to the body's inability to produce or effectively use insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas that aids in storing or converting glucose from food into energy. People withtype 2 diabetes either do not produce enough insulin or their bodies have difficulty putting the available insulin to work; some people with type 2 diabetes require insulin injections. People with type 1 diabetes produce little or no insulin and require multiple daily injections of insulin. The main treatment regimen for type 1 diabetes is insulin injections throughout the day, measuring blood sugar levels, watching one's diet, and planning structured meals and activities.
Doctors have attempted to transplant insulin-producing islet cells from donated pancreases into patients with severe, unstable diabetes. The results were that these recipients were able to maintain normal blood sugar levels without taking insulin shots. So can islet-cell transplants mean the end of daily insulin injections for people with diabetes?
One type of islet-cell transplan method follows a procedure called the Edmonton protocol. This includes transplanting cells immediately after removal from the donated pancreas, removing foreign proteins from the cells, and adding islets from a second pancreas if blood sugars start to rise. Doctors infuse the cells into the patient's liver during a simple procedure, and the process carries less risk than an organ transplant.
Last reviewedApril 2011by Brian Randall, MD
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