Type I diabetes, is a type of disease, that requires insulin injections daily. Researchers are slowly heading towards closer to a cure for this disease. Some medical research centers in the U.S. and Europe conducted experiments on people with severe Type I diabetes by transplanting insulin-producing islet cells combined with less toxic antirejection drugs. These people are able to live normal lives without insulin.
A.M. James Shapiro, MD, a Canadian surgeon, director of the clinical islet and pancreas transplant programs at the University of Alberta in Edmonton , pioneered this technique called the Edmonton Protocol.
After one year, the follow-up data of the subjects showed positive and welcoming results. The results showed that out of 15 people with type I diabetes who have undergone this technique, two-thirds of them were insulin-free.These findings were recently presented by Shapiro, at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association in Philadelphia.
Other researchers and Shapiro's team are currently working on improving the protocol mainly by developing better immunosupressing, antirejection drugs that are less toxic to islet cells. Since islets are considered foreign to the host, drugs have to be used to prevent the body from rejecting the cells.Sometimes these may cause further kidney problems in individuals with long-standing diabetes.
People with Type I diabetes either do not make any insulin or only make tiny amounts. Hence, they require daily shots of insulin to live. This type of disease often leads to life-threatening complications such as blindness, kidney failure, and heart disease. The Edmonton protocol has been replicated successfully in centers in the U.S. and Europe.
Another opiton is a whole pancreas transplant which will eliminate the need of insulin injections. Since only a few thousand pancreases are donated in the U.S. each year, the operation is cumbersome.
Shapiro feels that patients do much better with Edmonton protocol than transplants. Another hurdle on the road toward a cure is that there are not enough islet cells to go around. The Edmonton technique actually requires islet cells from two donor pancreases for each patient transplanted. Shapiro feels that since there is tremendous excitement with stem cell research, they suggested that islet cells could be easily replicated in the lab, and hence there would be a limitless source of cells.
Shapiro feels that if this can become the truth, there can be a permanent cure for type I diabetes patients as well as type II diabetes.