In islet cell transplantation, beta cells are removed from a donor's pancreas and transferred into a person with diabetes. Beta cells are one type of cell found in the islets of the pancreas and produce insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels. Once transplanted, the donor islets begin to make and release insulin.
If you have diabetes, you already know the drill. What you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat can send your blood sugar skyrocketing -- or make it plummet. For better or worse, "diet and diabetes" go together like salt and pepper.
So if you need a little motivation to eat better - and who doesn't? - consider this: with diabetes, you're at high risk of the nerve pain and damage called diabetic neuropathy. What can start as a little tingling or numbness in your feet can turn into major problems...
What Are the Benefits of Islet Cell Transplantation?
A successful islet cell transplant can significantly improve the quality of life for a person with diabetes.
Once transplanted, the islet cells resume their role of releasing insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels in response to food, exercise, and other changes in the body.
Successful islet cell transplantation can provide the following benefits:
Restore or improve the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels. The need for frequent blood sugar measurements and daily insulin injections can be reduced, and in a minority of patients, eliminated three years after transplantation. Although being free from insulin injections may only last several months or a year, islet cell transplantation reduces episodes of low blood sugar for a longer time.
As with all organ and tissue transplants, rejection of the donor cells is the greatest challenge. The immune system serves to protect the body from "invading" substances that do not belong -- bacteria and viruses, for example. Even though the transplanted islet cells are beneficial, the recipient's immune system recognizes it as "foreign" and tries to destroy it. This attack on the donor tissue is called "rejection."
All transplant recipients must take, for the rest of their life, strong drugs to suppress the immune response and prevent rejection. Many of these drugs have serious side effects. The long-term effects of these immunosuppressive or anti-rejection drugs are not yet known, but it is suspected that they may increase the risk of cancer.
How Successful Is Islet Cell Transplantation for Diabetes?
Scientists developed the procedure for transplanting islet cells to treat diabetes in the 1960s. The first transplantation attempts, which began in the 1990s, succeeded only 8% of the time, which was attributed to the fact that anti-rejection drugs available at the time interfered with insulin's effectiveness.