Islet Cell Transplantation: A Newer Approach To Gaining Complete Insulin Independence

Snigdha Taduri

Snigdha Taduri

An experimental study conducted by scientists at Carolinas Medical Centre at Charlotte, N.C revealed that transplantation of islet cells in type I diabetics’ produces adequate insulin, thereby eliminating the need for a daily dose of insulin injections. According to Dr. Paul Gores, Director of Pancreas and Islet Transplantation at Carolinas Medical Centre in Charlotte, this method reverses diabetes in patients who have lost cells of the pancreas that are responsible for making insulin.

A gruelling 14-hour process involves surgeons to isolate and purify islet cells from a donated pancreas and later inject them into patients. It is these healthy islet cells that ultimately produce insulin. Patients undergoing this procedure are put on immunosuppressive drugs for life so as to ensure that the new islet cells are not rejected by their immune systems.

Tislethis treatment has attracted a lot of volunteers who are either patients themselves or have loved ones suffering from diabetes, looking for relief from the frustration and desperation caused by the disease. However, lack of standardized protocols, differences in inclusion criteria and immunosuppressive regimes has prevented this method from becoming a gold standard in treatment.

islet-cell-transplantAt this point only about 2 percent of type 1 diabetics are considered candidates for islet cell transplantation, but doctors hope that number will increase. Dr. Paul Gores also admits that 6-9 years after the transplant, insulin production might stop once again and patients might go back to square one.

Having said that, some patients who have suffered due to the symptoms of diabetes and had episodes of unconsciousness, blurred vision, excessive weight loss etc have been given a new lease of life with this treatment.

Transplant Procedure

Islets are the cluster of cells on pancreas that control the secretion and release of insulin in order to maintain appropriate blood sugar levels in the body. Specialised enzymes are used to isolate and purify islets from the donor. X-rays and ultrasound are used as a guide to place a catheter through the upper abdomen into the portal vein in the liver. Islets are then slowly infused through this into the patients system. This procedure is generally performed using a local anaesthetic.

About Type I Diabetes

type-I-diabeteseThis is a type of an autoimmune disease wherein the body’s immune system turns against its own body parts or cells, thus destroying the cells that make insulin. Lack of insulin leads to increased amounts of glucose in the body, giving rise to symptoms such as excessive weight loss, increased hunger, frequent urination, and vision problems. In more complicated cases, type I diabetes predisposes patients to kidney failure, cardiovascular disease, nerve damage and blindness.


Article by Snigdha Taduri for Biomed Middle East