Mouse cell research offers hope for diabetes treatment

Patients with Type 1 diabetes could soon avoid multiple islet transplants and regular insulin injections, recent research reveals.

A new study of diabetic mice has revealed a treatment that could help maintain healthy blood sugar levels in patients with Type 1 diabetes, a condition that affects approximately 400,000 people in the UK.

The new cell treatment enhances islet transplantation and improves healthy blood sugar levels without the need for multiple transplants of insulin producing cells or regular insulin injections.

Current Type 1 Diabetes Treatment

In Type 1 diabetes the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas are destroyed. Insulin injections maintain health but blood glucose levels can be difficult to control. The current recommendation for people with type 1 diabetes who have lost awareness of low blood glucose levels is the transplantation of islets – the insulin producing part of the pancreas.

Due to rejection and the length of time it takes for pancreases to form new blood supplies, two donor pancreases, which are scarce, are often needed for this treatment. Multiple islet transplants and anti-rejection medication are therefore required to control blood sugar levels in people with Type 1 diabetes. CVS scientists hope their findings could be a way of overcoming these issues.

New Treatment Option

This mouse study found that transplanting a combination of islets with connective tissue cells found in umbilical cords – known as stromal cells - could potentially reduce the number of pancreases required for the procedure.

Mice that received the islet-stromal cell combination were found to have better control of blood glucose and less evidence of rejection of islets after seven weeks, compared to those that received islets alone.

The CVS researchers found that islets combined with stromal cells successfully returned normal blood glucose levels just three days after transplantation.

Should this research prove successful in humans, we could reduce the number of islets needed to control blood sugar levels using this co-transplantation approach. This would mean more people with Type 1 diabetes could be treated using islet transplantation while significantly reducing the waiting time on the transplant list.

Shareen Forbes
Professor of Diabetic Medicine at the University of Edinburgh and Lead Physician for the Islet Transplant Programme in Scotland

John Campbell, Professor and Associate Director Tissues, Cells & Advanced Therapeutics at the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service has said that further work is needed to establish the long term safety of using this type of stromal cell in this setting before proceeding to clinical trials in humans.

Islet transplants have been life changing for some people with Type 1 diabetes, treating dangerous hypo unawareness. But there currently aren’t enough donated pancreases to go around, and the procedure itself isn’t yet as effective as it could be. This new research from the University of Edinburgh is a promising step forward, and one we hope will lead to islet transplants becoming both more effective and more widely available in the future.

Dr Elizabeth Robertson
Director of Research at Diabetes UK

The research is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine and funded by Chief Scientist Office in Scotland and Diabetes UK.


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