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Pancreatic Cell Transplants Give Hope To Researchers Working To Cure Type 1 Diabetes

MIAMI (CBSNewYork) -- Researchers in Miami have taken a major step towards curing Type I Diabetes.

They have transplanted pancreatic cells into two patients who are now off their insulin more than a year later.

As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez explained, taking donor insulin, producing cells -- called beta cells, and transplanting them into a diabetic has been done before, but they don't last very long.

Eventually the auto-immune attack that caused the diabetes in the first place kills off the transplanted cells.

Todd Rubinstein, 11, has Type I Diabetes, and so does his father Mitchell.

For father and son that means frequent testing of their blood sugar to avoid potentially deadly complications.

"When you wake up in the morning, you have to know what your blood sugar is. Last thing when you go to bed at night is you have to test your blood sugar -- is it too high, is it too low, is it just right?" Mitchell explained.

For young Todd, that means testing before almost any activity most of us take for granted -- like eating.

"What to do when sugar is low or high, maybe before I eat, I should not eat without knowing what your sugar is," he said.

They both use continuous blood sugar monitors and insulin pumps, but those are a crude imitation of mother nature.

That's why researchers at the Diabetes Research Institute - the DRI - at the university of Miami have been working for years to figure a way to transplant the insulin-producing cells that could become a cure for Type 1 Diabetes.

That's what Wendy Peacock received 15 months ago, along with a patient in Italy.

"Working within days of the transplant in August 201, and still off insulin now, one year after we had the first success in Europe, in Milan, also completely off insulin," Dr. Camillo Ricordi said.

They were able to do this by creating a mini organ called a bio-hub. It's a biological scaffold made of plasma and a blood clotting material loaded with islet cells from a donor pancreas. The bio-hub is placed into a pocket of abdominal fat that supports the cells while blood vessels grow in.

What would this mean for diabetics like Mitch and Todd?

"I can't think of anything that would change our lives more. That one thing would improve our lives in ways I can't even begin to understand," Mitchell said.

The transplant patients still have to take immuno-suppressing drugs, but the DRI is working on ways to eliminate that need -- partly by generating the insulin producing cells from the patient's own stem cells.

A ready supply of those cells will also be needed to meet the demand, but a cure may finally be in sight.



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