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[IP] Diabetes Cure Study
Cell transplant may offer diabetes cure -study
By Gene Emery
BOSTON, (Reuters) - Canadian researchers said Tuesday they have developed a
cell transplant technique that eliminates the need for insulin injections in
the treatment of diabetes.
The development is so striking that the New England Journal of Medicine
released the University of Alberta study almost two months early and put it
on its Web site, http://www.nejm.org.
Scientists injected pancreas cells near the liver in eight diabetes patients.
The cells took up residence in the liver and began producing the long-lost
insulin that controls blood sugar levels.
If the results are confirmed in a larger study slated to begin this summer
and doctors can find a better source for the cells, which must now be
harvested from cadavers, it could mean the end of insulin-dependent diabetes,
said Dr. James Shapiro, who led the study.
``This is going to be a tremendous advance,'' Shapiro told Reuters,
``certainly for people with type 1 diabetes,'' which is the most severe form
of diabetes and usually appears in childhood.
``That's what has been unique about what we've been able to accomplish in the
past 18 months,'' said Dr. Jonathan Lakey, a co-author of the study. ``Eight
consecutive patients no longer need insulin shots.''
The long-term safety and effectiveness of the technique must still be
In addition, the recipients must take a combination of three drugs designed
to prevent the body from rejecting the transplanted cells. Those drugs
increase the risk of cancer and infection.
But serious diabetics may regard such risks as a small price to pay when the
impact of the transplant is so dramatic.
Shapiro said one of the eight patients who regularly fell into a diabetic
coma, sometimes as often as three times a week, no longer needs insulin
``I can now do things I never dreamed I would do, like teaching an entire
morning or afternoon without stopping to eat a snack or testing my blood
glucose, (or) going for walks when I want,'' said Mary Anna Kralj-Pokerznik,
a junior high school teacher who is one of the eight volunteers.
As soon as the pancreas cells are injected into the blood vessel leading to
the liver, where the cells take up residence, they begin producing the
long-lost insulin that controls blood sugar levels.
``It happens almost instantaneously'' once a critical mass of cells has been
injected, Shapiro told Reuters.
Lakey said, ``It's just the pinprick of a catheter going into the side of the
body near the liver. We want to develop it as an outpatient procedure.''
Currently, it takes the cells of two pancreases, matched for blood type, to
produce an apparent cure, said Lakey. Eventually, doctors hope to be able to
cull enough cells from a single donated pancreas or find a way to grow the
cells in the laboratory, making the shortage of organ donors irrelevant.
``That's where the next leap forward in this field is going to be,'' he said.
The key to the researcher's success, Lakey said, has been a better method for
extracting the cells from the donated pancreas and the use of three drugs,
sirolimus, tacrolimus and daclizumab, to prevent rejection.
Shapiro said that, over time, he hopes that the technique can be modified to
require few, if any, anti-rejection drugs.
The study will be published in the July 27 issue of the Journal.
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