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Diabetes treatment success in Scotland

18 September 2012

We have just learnt of a fantastic success story in Scotland regarding twelve patients who have been cured of ‘hypos’, thanks to the Scottish islet transplant programme.

Eighteen months on from the first operation, the Scottish National Pancreatic Islet Transplant Programme has just announced that it has carried out 18 islet infusions, improving the lives of 12 people with ‘brittle’ type 1 diabetes.

Brittle diabetes is where people with the condition move very quickly between very high glucose levels and very low levels, usually with no warning. The success of the Scottish programme is brilliant news, as the lives of these 12 people will have been transformed.

JDRF funding enabled a team based in Edmonton, Canada, to define the conditions for a successful islet transplant. Since then, more than 800 islet transplants have happened worldwide. The NHS was the first healthcare organisation in the world to adopt islet transplants as a proven treatment (specifically for brittle diabetes), so the success of the Scottish transplant centre is a great testament to the progress that has been made from the early days of JDRF’s funding in this field.

An islet transplant involves preparing islets from a deceased donor's pancreas, so that they can be given to someone with type 1. The islets are then injected into the large blood vessel that feeds the liver of the person with type 1. To be able to give someone with type 1 the number of islets needed to control their blood glucose levels often requires two separate infusions. This is why in Scotland, six of the patients have undergone two operations, while six patients have had a single infusion of cells. It’s great news that the Scottish National Pancreatic Islet Transplant Programme has reported that all of these patients are now able to recognise when their blood glucose level drops and rarely experience low levels.

The majority of patients now only require tiny amounts of regular insulin and some do not require insulin at all.

Rachel Connor Head of Research Communication at JDRF commented:

‘While islets transplants are not a cure for type 1, because they do not tackle the underlying autoimmune reaction that causes the condition, they can transform the lives of people with very hard to control type 1 diabetes. The islet transplant programme is vital in paving the way for other cell based therapies for the condition, which may be a cornerstone of the eventual cure for type 1 diabetes.'

Professor James Shaw, Islet Transplant Lead for Newcastle and member of JDRF Scientific Advisory Committee said:

'It is wonderful to see how quickly the national islet transplant programme in Scotland has progressed from government commissioning to a series of successful clinical transplants. The Scottish programme is part of a clinical service available to people throughout the UK - with type 1 diabetes complicated by life-threatening hypoglycaemia despite best conventional management. This usually but not always includes a trial of insulin pump therapy. In addition to Edinburgh, there are specialist islet transplant centres in Bristol, London (King's College and Royal Free Hospital), Oxford, Manchester and Newcastle.'

Read the Scottish Government media release here.

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