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Islet Transplantation Offers New Hope For Type 1 Diabetes

Researchers in Canada appear to have taken a significant step toward a cure for diabetes, CBSHealthWatch correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports on the June 7 Early Show.


The small study, released by the New England Journal of Medicine, could eventually mean the end of insulin injections for type 1 diabetics.


Researchers at the University of Alberta announced that they have successfully freed eight patients from daily diabetes injections through a process called islet transplantation.


In type 1 diabetes, the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas that regulate sugar are destroyed. The researchers took islet cells from a donor pancreas, and injected them into the patient's liver. The cells almost immediately began producing insulin.


Transplanting islet cells is not new. The Canadian researchers are the first to have success, by doubling the amount of islet cells and using steroid-free anti-rejection drugs.


Robert Tesky participated in the trial, and for the first time in 40 years, no longer needs insulin injections. "Even 2 years ago, even 15 months ago, I would never have even in my wildest dreams assumed that I could be functioning as normally as I am now."


But if this good news could ber confirmed in larger studies, some worry it would place a huge demand on donor organs.


"These islets have to be obtained from cadaver donors," says Dr. Gordon Weir of Harvard Medical School. "There are very limited number of these, and it's simply not enough to supply everyone with type 1 diabetes.


"So far, the first patient to receive a transplant 15 months ago remains well without the need for insulin. We still don't know the long-term prognosis, and of course anti-rejection drugs carry their own risk, which include a slightly increased risk for cancer and infection," says Senay.


Senay says similar treatments for type 2 diabetes could be in the future, and greater availability for people with type 1, but the low number of donor organs is a real barrier.


"I think it's going to be a while," Senay says. "There's a lot of things that have to happen before this is widespread therapy."


Eight research centers are planning further studies into islet transplantation, Senay says.
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