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Step Towards Type 1 Diabetes Cure

There is good news for the estimated one million American sufferers of type 1 diabetes.

Researchers have announced an important step toward a cure of the disease.

The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explains that type 1 diabetes is a disease where a person lacks the insulin-producing cells, or islets cells, in the pancreas that regulate sugar. People who suffer with the type 1 diabetes must inject insulin on a daily basis for their whole lives.

Now, researchers are testing a new treatment for the disease using islet cells from a donor pancreas. The cells are transplanted into the liver of an adult patient with type 1 diabetes, where they start producing insulin. These patients no longer need daily insulin injections.

Dr. Senay says the technique has worked well in Canada where it was first developed. There are patients now who have been free from insulin injections for as long as four years. Dr. Senay says the question was whether or not others would be able to achieve the same results.

The latest study is looking at 200 patients worldwide, including the United States. Preliminary results show the same 88 percent success rate in freeing patients with type 1 diabetes from daily insulin injections.

Doctors hope they can eventually perfect the technique and provide a hundred percent effective cure.

Currently, the patients have to take anti-rejection drugs to prevent their bodies rejecting the foreign cells. These drugs have risks including a slightly increased risk of infection and cancer. Other side-effects including higher cholesterol and mouth ulcers.

The technique doesn't work on type 2 diabetes, says Dr. Senay, because it is a different disease. In type 1 diabetes, people lack the cells to produce insulin, hence the need for the cell transplant. But, type 2 diabetics still have their islet cells and are often able to make their own insulin. Dr. Senay says the type 2 diabetes problem is that their insulin is resistant in other areas.

The technique will need to be perfected and approved before it becomes widely available. Dr. Senay says few places in the world are testing the technique and only a handful of U.S. centers were involved in this initial study.

Researchers also point out that a shortage of donor pancreatic cells is a potential stumbling block for the future. Islet cells have to be extracted from cadaver donors, and organ donors are in very short supply. There are not enough organs to supply all the people with type 1 diabetes.