Study finds way to aid Type 1 diabetics

The study found a way to reduce the number of pancreases used in treatment.

Naomi Scott

University researchers might have found a way to reverse the effects of Type 1 diabetes, according to a recent study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The results of the study “totally abolished” the need for insulin injections, said Dr. David Sutherland, author of the study and University professor of surgery.

Those with Type 1 diabetes lack sufficient insulin to maintain healthy levels of sugar in the blood, said Lois Finney, a senior scientist in the pediatrics department. As a result, she said, blood sugar levels increase dangerously, which can lead to excessive thirst and frequent urination.

Complications of Type 1 diabetes include eye disease, kidney disease, heart disease and nerve damage, she said.

To maintain healthy blood sugar levels, those with Type 1 diabetes have to inject themselves with insulin daily, Finney said.

Sutherland said the study’s goal was to eliminate patients’ need for insulin injections. The study did so by isolating insulin-producing cells, or islets, of one donor pancreas for each patient. A large part of the study’s success was its ability to stop Type 1 diabetes with cells from only one pancreas. Previous studies have needed two or three donor pancreases for each patient.

This is a problem, because only 3,000 suitable pancreases are donated annually, while more than 30,000 new cases of Type 1 diabetes are diagnosed each year in the United States, Sutherland said.

Using more pancreases per person results in fewer people being treated, he said.

But Sutherland and his fellow researchers succeeded in transplanting the cells from a single donor pancreas to one patient.

“This is the ultimate minimally invasive surgery,” Sutherland said about the complex procedure.

All eight of the recipients attained some degree of insulin independence after the transplant, and five of the eight remained insulin independent for more than one year.

Eight women were used for the study, because there was a body-weight requirement, said Peter Eckman, chief resident in the department of internal medicine.Researchers wanted to make sure they could isolate enough islets to replace all the insulin in the patients. A heavier person might require more islets, he said.

Because there are not enough human pancreases for each person who suffers from Type 1 diabetes, Sutherland said, researchers will ultimately use insulin-producing cells from pigs for the procedure.

However, it is harder to prevent rejection with animal organs, he said.