Cell therapy helping diabetes patients

People with Type 1 diabetes are being helped by a transplant therapy that uses cells from the pancreas, a study shows.

Patients who have received the cells from donor organs have shown an improved quality of life, University researchers say.

The technique aims to combat hypoglycaemia - a drop in blood sugar triggered in patients on insulin treatment, which can prove fatal.

Blood sugar

Type 1 diabetes is caused by the loss of cells in the pancreas that produce a hormone - called insulin - which decreases blood sugar levels.

People with the condition are prescribed insulin to maintain a healthy blood sugar level.

However, severe hypoglycaemia affects one in four patients.

Loss of symptoms

Patients who have repeated episodes of hypoglycaemia may have less severe symptoms - such as dizziness and sweating - and not realise their blood sugar is low.

This can lead to multiple health problems, the suspension of driving licences, and loss of employment.

Replacing the cells that produce insulin is an effective way of preventing hypoglycaemia.

Transplants decreased hypoglycaemia and restored warning symptoms, making it easier for patients to prevent an episode.

Transforming lives

Type 1 diabetes affects people from all sections of society equally. However, people from the lowest socioeconomic groups are at the greatest risk of becoming hypoglycaemic.

Three quarters of patients referred for transplants were from economically disadvantaged groups.

In the UK we have the first nationally funded islet transplant programme. Our programme in Scotland reaches the people that need these transplants the most and has excellent results which transform the quality of life for these people.

Dr Shareen ForbesSchool of Clinical Sciences

The Scottish Islet Transplant Programme is funded by the National Health Service and is free to patients at the point of care.

The work was carried out by researchers at the University, The Islet Transplant Team at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, and the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service’s Islet Isolation Laboratory.

The study, published in the journal Diabetologia, was based on the outcomes of a clinical programme funded by charities including Diabetes UK, Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.