Page last updated at 15:08 GMT, Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Cell jabs prevent transplant need

Lab (generic)
One donor pancreas produces enough islets for one patient

A new treatment for diabetics which avoids the need for an organ transplant could be administered for the first time in Scotland within months.

The pioneering treatment in Edinburgh will see patients being injected with islets, which are insulin producing cells, from a donated pancreas.

They are injected into a vein leading to the liver in a one-off process which allows patients to lead a normal life.

The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service opens a new laboratory later.

The islets remain and work in the liver after they are injected into it.

Professor Marc Turner, the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service's associate medical director, said the technique would end the need to do the "high-risk surgical procedure" of transplanting a donor pancreas into a patient.

In extreme cases, she [Kimberley] could slip into a coma, or if she's driving, she could crash
John Casey
Islet transplant programme

He told the BBC Scotland news website: "The majority of people in Scotland with diabetes control it with diet and drugs.

"However, some have great difficulty in controlling their diabetes as their blood sugar swings up and down, so this development should enable us to offer a way of controlling their diabetes more successfully.

"For those patients who do need a pancreas transplant, which is a high-risk surgical procedure, it will be a much more straight-forward and safe procedure."

To start with, about 12 patients a year will be able to receive the new treatment.

People who will benefit from the new treatment are those with Type 1, or insulin dependent diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease caused when insulin-producing cells are destroyed by cells that normally defend the body from invading organisms.

Kimberley Hall from Peebles has severe diabetes.
Patients like Kimberley Hall could be helped by the treatment.

Kimberley Hall, from Peebles, has severe diabetes, which can strike without warning. "I constantly have to have someone with me. All the time," she said.

If her blood level falls too low, she suffers what diabetics call a "hypo".

She explained: "If you were with me when that happened, you'd see my speech get very slurred. My legs would go very wobbly and I could collapse."

Transplant surgeon, John Casey, is the lead clinician for the Islet Cell Programme.

He said: "Patients like Kimberley aren't aware when their blood sugar level falls.

"In extreme cases, she could slip into a coma. Or if she's driving, she could crash. So this is a potentially life-threatening condition."

He said that at the moment the technique depends on organs from deceased donors. But he added that work being done at Edinburgh University gives hope that "in the not too distant future" islets will be able to be produced from stem cells.

Minister for Public Health Shona Robinson said: "I'm delighted to be launching this groundbreaking programme which will be of great benefit to some groups of people living with Type 1 diabetes."

Islet transplants have been controversial, with some researchers in the USA and Italy questioning the cost. They also say patients need to be given powerful immuno-suppressant drugs to stop their bodies rejecting the cells.

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