The results of a new clinical trial have shown that transplanting pancreatic islets—the cell clusters that contain insulin producing cells—can prevent the sudden drop of blood sugar (hypoglycemia), a condition that is life threatening for people who suffer from type 1 diabetes.
Now on its third phase, the success of the trial, which is backed under the National Institutes of Health (NIH), means that there could be better way to manage diabetes.
Participants in the study received at least one transplant of islets, which are injected into the portal vein. They were then required to take immunosuppressants to prevent their immune system from rejecting the cells.
Eighty-eight percent of the participants were shown to have near-normal control of glucose levels after the first year, with restored hypoglycemic awareness. By the second year, 71 percent of the participants continued to meet the criteria for the success of the study.
In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys insulin producing cells, requiring them to undergo insulin therapy. In hypoglycemia, the low sugar levels lead to tremors, sweating, and heart palpitations, which require those who suffer from it to consistently monitor their condition. People who suffer from type 1 diabetes must always avoid hypoglycemic events, as this could prove to be life threatening to them.
This treatment could offer real hope at preventing this. But it is not without risks. The treatment requires the use of immunosuppresants, which could lead to infections and lowered kidney function. But while these possible side-effects are serious, none has led to death or disability.
Currently, this treatment is available only through clinical trials and researchers behind it are continuing to study whether the glucose control and protection it offers from hypoglycemic events will outweigh the risks. But early results have proved promising.