Implanting pancreas cells from a donor into the livers of patients with Type 1 diabetes can help them live longer, a study has found.
The research, led by French scientists, has shown promising results for Type 1 diabetics who undergo kidney transplant.
Around a third of Type 1 diabetes sufferers will eventually need a new kidney, as the high blood sugar caused by the disease damages blood vessels in the organs. And many patients who receive a transplant will experience kidney failure again within several years.
But data shows that an innovative procedure – islet transplantation – can extend the time patients live without further complications following a kidney transplant.
The technique involves taking special cells, called islet cells, from the pancreas of a donor. These cells produce insulin, the hormone that keeps blood sugars stable.
The pancreas is a leaf-shaped gland situated near the liver. For reasons not fully understood, in Type 1 diabetics, the immune system attacks the gland, causing it to fail.
With the procedure, the islet cells are transferred via a catheter into the diabetic’s liver at the same time as the kidney transplant. The liver is the chosen site as it has a unique property called immune privilege – it is less likely to trigger an immune response compared to other organs when foreign tissues or cells are transplanted into it.
The new study, presented today at the European Society for Organ Transplantation Congress, looked at 330 patients who had undergone a kidney transplant.
They found that patients who had islet transplantation were more than 50 per cent less likely to suffer kidney failure compared with those who did not have the treatment, and lived a year longer on average.
The researchers, from the University of Lille, also found the islet transplant patients were 70 per cent less likely to need regular insulin to control their blood sugar.
Despite 400,000 Britons living with Type 1 diabetes, NHS figures show just 40 islet transplants are carried out each year.
Nephrologist and author of the study, Dr Mehdi Maanaoui, said, “We hope our findings help to increase access to islet transplantation.”