‘Life-changing’ cell-based therapy beneficial for those with hard-to-control type 1 diabetes

‘Life-changing’ cell-based therapy beneficial for those with hard-to-control type 1 diabetes

Individuals with hard-to-control type 1 diabetes can stabilise their blood sugars by following a long-term cell transplant programme, a new study shows. 

Academics have praised the islet transplant treatment after outlining how it benefits people with severely low or high blood sugar levels.

Islets are groups of cells which produce insulin, a hormone that helps to control the flow of energy from food.

In people with type 1 diabetes, the immune system destroys the cells within islets, so those with the condition must inject themselves with insulin.

New data from Canada has disclosed how this cell-based therapy impacts survival rates, insulin independence and defences against dangerously low blood sugars.

Over the duration of the 20-year programme, more than 250 individuals underwent 700 islet transplants at the University of Alberta Hospital.

According to the researchers, the programme is extremely effective and transforms the lives of many people living with type 1 diabetes.

Lead academic Dr James Shapiro, professor of surgery at the University of Alberta and Canada Research Chair in regenerative medicine and transplant surgery, said: “We’ve shown very clearly that islet transplantation is an effective therapy for patients with difficult-to-control type 1 diabetes. This long-term safety data gives us confidence that we are doing the right thing.”

Dr Peter Senior, Charles A. Allard Chair in Diabetes Research and director of the Alberta Diabetes Institute at the university, added: “This data shows really strong proof that cell-based therapies can deliver a meaningful and transformative impact for people with diabetes.

“We are delivering something which all other treatments for diabetes don’t deliver – there’s a comfort, a predictability, a stability to blood sugar levels that don’t exist with anything else.”

More than 60 per cent of islet infusion recipients were still on insulin a year after following the programme, the study has revealed.

After five years, this reduced to 32 per cent, while after 20 years this dropped down to eight per cent, the results have reported.

Dr Shapiro added: “Being completely free of insulin is not the main goal. It’s a big bonus, obviously, but the biggest goal for the patient – when their life has been incapacitated by wild, inadequate control of blood sugar and dangerous lows and highs – is being able to stabilise. It is transformational.”

“Islet transplant as it exists today isn’t suitable for everybody, but it shows very clear proof of concept that if we can fix the supply problem and minimise or eliminate the anti-rejection drugs, we will be able to move this treatment forward and make it far more available for children and adults with type 1 and type 2 diabetes in the future.”

Click here to access this study.

Author: Eileen Gilbert