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Last Updated: Monday, 14 June, 2004, 23:30 GMT 00:30 UK
Diabetes cell transplant success
Mary Jenkins
Mary Jenkins is a keen runner
One of only two people in the UK to have undergone cell transplant surgery to treat Type 1 diabetes is to carry the Olympic Torch through London.

Mary Jenkins has responded very well to the operation to inplant insulin-producing islet cells from a donor into her liver.

The surgery at King's College Hospital, London, has dramatically reduced her need for regular insulin shots.

And she has been able to resume running without fear of damaging her health.

Previously she had to give up her hobby because it carried a risk that her blood glucose levels would fall too low.

She used to require 40 units of insulin a day to maintain a healthy blood sugar level - now it is just four. It is hoped that eventually she will be able to give up insulin jabs completely.

Diabetes is a condition where the body cannot convert the glucose in its blood into energy because the hormone insulin which enables this to take place is either not produced or does not work properly.

A team based in Edmonton, Canada, was the first to demonstrate that people with Type 1 diabetes could remain free of insulin injections after the treatment was complete.

However, islet research is still in its early stages and much work is still required to improve the success rate of the procedure and develop ways of maintaining the transplanted islets over time.

This treatment has totally changed my life
Mary Jenkins

Professor Stephanie Amiel, who leads the diabetes team at King's College Hospital, said "Islet transplantation offers new hope of a cure to people with Type 1 diabetes.

"It removes one of the greatest fears of people with diabetes, that of having a bad hypoglycaemic episode, which can result in confusion and coma.

"Our ultimate goal at King's is to be able to offer islet cell therapy to as many people with diabetes as may need it."

However, Professor Amiel told BBC News Online that at present only people with severe problems controlling their blood sugar levels would be considered for surgery.

She said there was a shortage of donor pancreases from which to extract islet cells, and the drugs required to prevent rejection were potentially toxic, and required further refinement.

Mary will join over 140 other torchbearers who will carry the Olympic Torch on a 48km journey through London on 26 June.

She said: "It is a fantastic honour to be asked to carry the Olympic Torch.

"Without the islet transplant I would not have been able to accept, as running was very difficult due to the risk of a hypoglycaemic attack.

"I was very lucky to be one of the first people in the UK to have the islet transplants and would like this treatment to be more widely available to people with Type 1 diabetes. This treatment has totally changed my life."

Benet Middleton, chief executive of Diabetes UK said: "To have someone with Type 1 diabetes almost insulin free is an amazing achievement and to have her carrying the Olympic Torch in London is a fitting tribute.

"I think we are one step closer to a cure."

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20 Feb 02  |  England
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27 Aug 02  |  Health

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