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Diabetes Health Center

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Islet Cell Transplantation for the Treatment of Diabetes

How Successful Is Islet Cell Transplantation for Diabetes? continued...

But in 1999, a clinical trial conducted at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, brought new hope. Using enhanced techniques to collect and prepare the extremely fragile donor islet cells, as well as using improved anti-rejection drugs, the researchers achieved a 100% success rate. All of the patients in their trial were freed from the need for insulin for at least one month.

However, the success of the ''Edmonton Protocol,'' as it was called, was not as successful in later trials, and the number of islet cell transplantations has decreased in more recent years. The Collaborative Islet Transplant Registry reported in 2009 that 70% of adults with Type I diabetes were free of insulin injections at one year, 50% at two years, and 35% at three years.

Can Anyone With Diabetes Get an Islet Cell Transplant?

Typically, candidates for islet cell transplantation are between the ages of 18 and 65, have had type 1 diabetes for more than 5 years, and are experiencing diabetes-related complications, such as frequent periods of unconsciousness due to lack of insulin and early signs of kidney problems that could lead to kidney failure.

As with all medical procedures, the benefits and risks must be weighed carefully. Transplantation is reserved for those with serious complications of diabetes.

Can Islet Cell Transplantation Be Done at Any Hospital?

Because it is still considered an experimental therapy, islet cell transplantation for diabetes is not widely available. There are currently 17 U.S. centers participating in islet cell research programs. The American Diabetes Association recommends that pancreas or islet cell transplantation be performed only in certain major centers, which are best equipped to handle the complex and long-term medical and personal needs of transplant patients.

What Is the Future of Islet Cell Transplantation Research?

There are two main areas of focus in islet cell transplantation research:

  1. Collecting enough islet cells to do the transplant: Obtaining enough islet cells for transplantation is a major challenge. In most cases, islet cells from several different donors are needed. Because the need surpasses the number of human donors available, researchers are studying the use of cells from other sources, including fetal tissue and animals such as pigs. Researchers are also attempting to grow human islet cells in the laboratory.
  2. Preventing rejection: Researchers are continuously seeking to develop new and better anti-rejection drugs. Many advances have been made in anti-rejection drugs over the past 15 years. Newer drugs -- such as tacrolimus (FK506) and rapamycin -- have fewer and less harmful side effects than some older drugs like cyclosporine and prednisone.

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