Cell Transplants For Diabetes

By Nancy Steinbach

This is Bill White with the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

Medical researchers in Canada report they have used insulin- producing cells to treat people with the disease diabetes.

About one-hundred-thirty-five-million people around the world have diabetes. They have high levels of the sugar called glucose in their blood. Glucose levels increase when the body lacks or cannot use the hormone insulin.

The pancreas is the organ that produces insulin. Insulin helps glucose enter cells so that it can be used for fuel. Without insulin, glucose levels increase. This results in diabetes. The disease damages blood vessels. It also injures the kidneys, eyes and nerves. It stops blood flow to the feet and legs. And it increases the chances of heart disease and strokes.

There are two kinds of diabetes. The Canadian researchers are trying to cure Type One diabetes. It develops when a person is a child or young adult. People with this kind of diabetes do not produce enough insulin. Their bodies' defense systems attack and destroy insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. They must inject insulin every day to control their glucose levels.

A medical team at the University of Alberta in Edmonton treated eight people who have Type One diabetes. The doctors took insulin-producing cells from the pancreases of healthy people who had died. The doctors placed the insulin-producing cells in the livers of the diabetes patients. The cells produced insulin in all eight patients. The cells are still producing insulin, two to fourteen months after the treatment. The patients all have normal glucose levels without having to inject insulin.

The Canadian team is not the first to try such a transplant method. However, they used many more pancreas cells than in the past. And they used a new group of drugs to prevent the patients' bodies from rejecting the insulin-producing cells.

The Canadian researchers announced the results of their work last month at meetings of transplant experts and at the Juvenile Diabetes Association. They also have reported their results in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The group is planning to begin another experiment soon at eight hospitals, including some in the United States. Doctors will treat thirty-two more diabetes patients with insulin-producing cells. Experts say this work could prove to be an important step in curing Type One diabetes.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by Nancy Steinbach. This is Bill White.

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