Islet Cell Transplantation Helping With Type I Diabetes

Posted at 1:36 PM, Jul 27, 2015

PHILADELPHIA. (Ivanhoe Newswire) - People with type I diabetes may develop complications from long-term use of insulin and develop hypoglycemia, or severe low blood sugar. Now researchers have developed a therapy that may help protect type I diabetics from this life-threatening condition.

As mom to 10-year-old twins Kendall and Garrett, Erika Totten is never off-duty. But just a few years ago, a chronic condition caused her health to go downhill. Insulin no longer controlled her type I diabetes.

“My speech would be really slurred. I’d kind of just be all over the place from one topic to another,” Totten told Ivanhoe.

Erika was severely hypoglycemic and would suffer side effects from low blood sugar without warning.

“I actually crashed my car with them in it,” she said. “My three-year-old daughter, if she hadn’t told the policeman that ‘mommy has bad sugar’ he wouldn’t have even known. He probably would have thought I was drunk driving because that’s apparently what it looks like.”

Michael Rickels, MD, MS, Associate Professor of Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, is studying a cutting edge therapy for severe type I diabetics -- a transplant of special pancreatic cells.

“The benefits of being able to maintain their glucose levels in a near normal and stable range without hypoglycemia would outweigh the downsides of immunosuppression,” Dr. Rickels told Ivanhoe.

Islet cells are removed from a donor pancreas, processed, and infused into a patient’s liver. The islets contain cells that produce insulin. Doctors at Penn tested the procedure in a small number of patients.

“Two months from transplant, seven of the 11 patients were able to taper off their insulin therapy,” Dr. Rickels explained.

Erika is one patient who is now insulin-free. “It’s a miracle. I don’t know how else to explain it. It really has changed my life completely,” she told Ivanhoe.

Dr. Rickels said four of the patients needed a second infusion of islets before they were able to stop taking insulin. Transplant therapy for type I diabetes is still investigational.

Dr. Rickels said long-term studies need to be completed so researchers can understand how long the results may last and what side effects can be anticipated.