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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 January 2006, 18:23 GMT
Cell transplant may cure diabetes
Jane Bates gives her daughter Emily an insulin injection
Diabetic children have to undergo daily insulin injections
Trials of a new treatment for diabetes could lead to a cure for the disease within 10 years, researchers say.

Doctors at Oxford's Churchill Hospital are trying to perfect the transplant of insulin-producing clusters of pancreas cells (islets) into patients' livers.

The cells then enable the patient to make their own insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels, like non-diabetics.

It is hoped the new treatment may end the need for patients to have pancreas transplants or daily insulin jabs.

By reversing diabetes we hope that we will prevent the long term conditions of the disease ... such as blindness and kidney failure
Paul Johnson
Director of islet transplantation programme

The research team hopes its trials, in adult patients with type 1 diabetes, will lead within the next five to 10 years to the perfecting of a simple operation that can reverse the condition in both children and adults.

The technique involves the removal of the clusters of cells - known as islets - from a donated pancreas in highly sterile conditions.

The cells are then injected directly into the patient's liver in what is a fairly simple procedure.

Director of the islet transplant programme and expert in paediatric surgery Mr Paul Johnson said: "The real advantage of islet transplantation in the future is that we hope we will be able to prevent children from having to have regular insulin injections.

"Also in the long term by reversing diabetes we hope that we will prevent the long-term conditions of the disease which develop 20 to 30 years later such as blindness and kidney failure."

Currently, the cell transplant requires high doses of anti-rejection drugs which present a danger to children.

Daily injections

So before they can even by trialled in young people, a process where these drugs are not needed has to be developed, Mr Johnson said.

Although his team also hopes to revolutionise treatment within the next decade, they acknowledge the process is still "quite inefficient".

The trials are taking place at a new 1.2 million facility funded by the Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation (DRWF) based within the Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Here, the focus is on ensuring exceptional levels of cleanliness and staff have to pass through rooms which become progressively cleaner.

Doctors implant pancreatic cells into a patient's liver
The technique is being trialled on adults

The transplant technique was originally pioneered by researchers from Oxford University and more recently improved by a team in Edmonton, Canada.

DRWF executive director Sarah Bone said her organisation had funded the research facility because of its potential benefit to child patients.

'Everything to us'

She said it was important diabetics were given some hope and that it was thought a cure could be found within five to 10 years.

She said: "They (diabetics) need some hope, they need to have something to work towards. It's good for us to be able to give them some information about islet cell transplantation."

Six-year-old Emily Bates has had to have daily insulin injections since she was 16-months-old.

Her mother Jane Bates, of West Hendred, near Oxford, said they were very intrusive to her daughter's daily life and were difficult to administer.

She said of the potential breakthrough: "It means everything to us.

"To think that by the time she is a young women she won't have to have all these restrictions on her."

Jo Brodie, Islet project co-ordinator at Diabetes UK, said the new purpose-built facility would enable researchers to build on the initial islet research it had funded.

"Research carried out at the facility will also help further our understanding of what causes diabetes, taking us another step closer in finding a cure."

09 Feb 99 |  Medical notes

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