Islet cell transplantation is an experimental treatment for type 1 diabetes mellitus during which insulin-producing beta cells are transplanted from a donor pancreas into another person.
After transplantation, the cells begin to produce insulin and regulating the level of glucose in the blood.
A good candidate for islet cell transplantation is between the ages of 18 and 65, has had type 1 diabetes for more than 5 years, and diabetes-related complications like early signs of kidney problems.
The procedure is experimental and it can currently be done in 17 U.S. centers, which have the best equipment to handle the complex and long-term medical and personal need of transplant patients.
Because one million islet cells are needed to be transplanted and this can be received from two human donors, researchers are studying the use of cells from other sources, including fetal tissue and animals such as pigs and they are also attempting to grow human islet cells in the laboratory.
The greatest challenge is a rejection of donor cells because the recipient’s immune system recognizes it as “foreign” like bacteria and viruses so researchers are seeking to develop new and better anti-rejection drugs with fewer and less harmful side effects like the ones used so far.
The benefits of successful islet cell transplantation can be:
- Elimination the need for frequent blood sugar measurements and the need for daily insulin injections
- More flexibility with meal planning
- Protection against the serious long-term complications of diabetes (kidney disease, nerve and eye damage, heart disease, stroke)
First transplantation attempts began in the 1990’s, but success was only 8% because anti-rejection drugs available at the time interfered with insulin's effectiveness.
In a clinical trial conducted at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada in 1999, all of the patients in the trial were freed from the need for insulin for at least one month.