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First UK Islet Transplant Successful

New breakthrough means insulin dependence could be a thing of the past for diabetes sufferers. 61-year-old businessman becomes Britain’s first fully successful islet cell transplant recipient.

A multidisciplinary team at King’s College Hospital has successfully achieved islet cell¹ transplantation in a Type 1² diabetes patient. This breakthrough has major implications for diabetes sufferers and has never before been achieved in the United Kingdom. The patient, a 61 year old man, now no longer needs insulin injections, following three transplants of islet cells isolated from cadaveric donor pancreases.

Historically, islet transplants have only been partially successful, in that they have reduced the amount of insulin required, but the need for regular injections still remained. The first reports of insulin independence came recently from a program in Canada. The King’s program is the first to report a comparable result for the UK. This patient has proved that it is possible for islet transplants to lead to freedom from administered insulin and diabetes treatment associated problems.

The patient suffered from Type 1 diabetes for over 30 years, experiencing increasing problems with his diabetes therapy. Prior to the islet transplant he endured severe, potentially life threatening hypoglycaemic³ attacks, which profoundly affected his quality of life. Following the islet transplant he is now producing his own insulin and is completely free from hypoglycemia.

The King’s team, a collaboration between the Department of Diabetes and the Liver Unit’s transplantation team, has to date transplanted three Type 1 diabetes patients with pancreatic islet cells. The first two patients achieved partial success, achieving relief of hypoglycemia problems, but still requiring small doses of insulin.

Islet cells are obtained from donor pancreases and are transplanted by injection, into the liver of the recipient. Once in the liver, the cells develop their own blood supply and begin producing insulin. This procedure is minimally invasive and only takes around 45 minutes to complete.

Professor Stephanie Amiel, Consultant in Diabetes commented: “This breakthough is hugely exciting. The implications for the future are enormous. Eventually, this could mean the end of insulin dependence for all Type 1 diabetes sufferers. In its current state of technology though, islet transplantation is not perfect. We do not have enough organ donors, therefore we cannot extract enough islets to help all Type 1 patients. More research needs to be done to perfect the islet isolation procedures and the drugs we use to prevent rejection of the islets and recurrence of the diabetes. At present we can therefore only offer this treatment to patients, in whom conventional treatments are failing in a major way. However, it is our aim that ultimately all people with Type 1 diabetes would become eligible for islet transplantation and free from insulin dependence.”

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