Health Beat: Alternative to transplant: Islet therapy for diabetes
For those with type 1 diabetes, taking multiple injections of insulin every day or wearing a pump are parts of life, but varying levels of insulin can lead to low blood sugar, a life-threatening condition, and for some, their only alternative is a pancreas transplant.
Now, a new technique is giving these patients their lives back without the need for insulin.
Working out has always been a part of life for Rick Cataldi, but when he developed type 1 diabetes 15 years ago, wild blood sugar swings threatened to take his life.
Diabetes led to a massive heart attack and another scare later with his fiancé.
"She came over to the house and I was sitting there conscious, like comatose. My eyes were opened and foam was coming out of my mouth," said Cataldi.
Then, Cataldi found out about a new therapy involving insulin producing cells known as islets
"The red one is insulin, and these are very healthy islets," said Dr. Ali Naji, surgical director of the kidney and pancreas transplant program at Penn Medicine.
Naji, the lead investigator, said the purified islets are injected into the patient's liver where they settle and produce insulin.
"Then, they start to sense what the blood glucose level of the recipient is and they just precisely produce the right amount of insulin needed," Naji said.
Now, two years after therapy, "I'm 100 percent off of insulin and I have perfect blood sugars, which is insane," Cataldi said. "I can do basically anything better. It's like I was a young man again."
To optimize their function and the chances for a successful transplant, the donor islet cells are rested for three days prior to transplant. All patients in the study suffered with severe hypoglycemia unawareness — meaning they had no warning signs of low blood sugar. After their islet transplant, all patients were able to stop daily insulin injections, and have remained so for at least a year.
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