Wow! There’s a lot of buzz right now about the British man who was “cured” of Type 1 diabetes with islet cells from donor pancreases transplanted into his liver. He’s apparently producing his own insulin and is entirely free from hypoglycemia.
This looks to be the first completely successful islet cell transplantation. Previous patients escaped from hypoglycemia but continued to require insulin in small doses.
Perfecting a procedure known as the the “Edmonton Protocol,” doctors at King’s College Hospital in London obtained islet cells from donor pancreases and transplanted these by injection into the liver of the recipient. Once in the liver, the cells develop their own blood supply and begin producing insulin. This is no invasive surgery, but a 45-minute clinical procedure. Wow! (Did I already say that?)
But then again, I’ve seen an awful lot of headlines lately announcing the impending end of insulin dependence. There was the mother-donor-to-daughter islet cell transplantation in Japan. And there were there were the eight woman in Minnesota in whom doctors successfully transplanted islet cells from single donors — as opposed to using multiple donors, previously considered necessary for success. And then there was the one about a University of Maryland study showing that overdoses of the human protein Zonulin may counteract the effects of autoimmune diseases like Type 1 diabetes. So far, they’ve only tried that one on rats.
All the transplantation procedures (including the new one, I believe) call for patients to take immuno-suppressive drugs or a combination of steroids to keep the body from rejecting the new cells -– which of course can lead to a LOT of other problems.
So is it time to get excited? Is islet cell transplantation really getting close to mainstream? My diabetic-herself educator says, “There’s so much news of advancements… I hold back on getting too excited. It’s my defense mechanism.” And a diabetes activist I just met who’s had the disease for 44 years (since 8 years old!) says: “We used to go around saying there’ll be a cure by the year 2000. Now I just keep charging on…”
The advancements are exciting, yes, but I’m bracing myself for a few more years of being “stuck in the realm of possibilities.” Which means making peace with my insulin pen and meter, for now. And getting my derrière to the gym!