London, Feb 11 : The Department of Health in the UK has agreed to fund a national programme to improve the availability of a groundbreaking transplant treatment for diabetes, which involves the use of islet cells from the pancreas.
It comes after clinical trials of an injection of the insulin creating cells taken from a donor have shown a great success.
Over a dozen patients with unstable type 1 diabetes underwent transplants of pancreas cells during the trials. Some of them were completely 'cured' of the condition and no longer required to take insulin, while some improved so much that they stopped having life-threatening seizures.
Type 1 diabetes can be caused by an infection or a defect in the immune system that causes the body to destroy its own insulin producing cells in the pancreas, and patients suffering from it need to inject themselves with the hormone daily.
It is different from type 2 diabetes that is mostly triggered by obesity, and can often be controlled with diet.
"The funding from the Department of Health is excellent news for people with life threatening diabetes. These patients live with a daily fear of having a dangerous hypo attack and this treatment will offer them the chance to have a normal life again," the Telegraph quoted Paul Johnson, Director of Oxford Islet Transplant Programme based at the Churchill Hospital and Oxford University, as saying.
"The ultimate aim is to eventually be able to reverse diabetes in children soon after diagnosis preventing them from getting these life threatening complications but further research is needed first," he added.
Researchers at Oxford, King's College Hospital and the Royal Free in London will isolate and harvest the cells from the donor organs. The transplants will be offered to around 20 patients in the first year, and more after that.
For the transplant, the islet cells are taken from the pancreas of a dead organ donor, and grown in the laboratory for two days. To have a successful transplant, more than 300,000 cells are needed, and patients can have maximum of two transplants.
The cells are injected into the liver where they start producing insulin.
In the longer term, it is hoped that cells may be taken from living donors, created from stem cells, or harvested from genetically modified pigs.
Only most serious cases will be considered for transplants because patients will have to take immunosurpressant drugs for the rest of their lives, which can increase the risk of infections and even cancer.
The Department of Health will invest up to 2.34 million pounds in islet transplant services in the first year, increasing to 7.32 million pounds a year.