Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, end-stage kidney failure, and leg amputations. It also increases the risk for heart disease. Diabetes mellitus causes high blood sugar levels because of the body's inability to produce or effectively use insulin. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that aids in storing or converting glucose from food into energy. Diabetes is not curable, but it can be managed with lifestyle changes and medications.
There are two main types of diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes produce little or no 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. People with type 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.
One hope for cure of diabetes lies in transplanting the islet cells that are in the pancreas. Islet cells produce and secret insulin into the bloodstream.
Doctors have attempted to transplant insulin-producing islet cells from donated pancreases into people 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 transplant method follows a procedure called the Edmonton protocol. This includes transplanting cells immediately after removal from the donated pancreas after removing foreign proteins from the cells. Removing foreign proteins from the cells reduces the risk of transplant rejection. In most cases, islet cells from a second donor pancreas are needed for improved blood glucose control. Doctors infuse the cells into the patient's liver during a simple procedure, and the process carries less risk than an organ transplant.
Last reviewedSeptember 2013by Michael Woods, MD
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