Emory patients celebrate 10 years of being diabetes-free, thanks to pancreatic islet cell transplants

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Two patients from Emory University School of Medicine celebrated a huge milestone recently – 10 years of being diabetes-free after receiving transplants of donor pancreatic islet cells.

Rob Allen and Laura Cochran were both diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in their early adult years. Allen struggled with severe weight loss, fatigue, and other diabetic-related complications for years. Smilarly, Cochran developed hypoglycemia unawareness after her diagnosis at age 27, where her blood sugar dropped so quickly in certain instances that she couldn't detect the problem fast enough.

"As a mother of four, I had several severe hypoglycemia incidents while with my children, and that was scary," Cochran said.

The trial that changed their lives

Allen and Cochran were both candidates for Emory's clinical trial on islet cell transplantation for people with type 1 diabetes.

In patients who have the condition, the pancreas stops producing insulin, which happens when pancreatic islet cells no longer make the hormone.

"Through a small incision in the abdomen, we placed an IV into the vein going to the liver," said Christian Larsen, M.D., DPhil, professor of surgery in the Division of Transplantation at Emory, and dean of Emory University School of Medicine. "Then using a slow-drip method, we infused hundreds of thousands of donor islet cells into the patient. Those islets made their way from the liver to the pancreas to restore insulin production."

The end of daily injections

The two patients both received two transplants from two different organ donors over the course of several months. After the second transplant, Allen and Cochran no longer needed daily insulin injections – and the two have been insulin-free since 2004.

"The best part about the islet cell transplants is not having to worry daily about my blood glucose levels getting out of control," Allen said. "It has been an amazing thing."

Doctors at Emory have performed the transplant procedure on 19 patients in four different clinical trials. But since islet cell transplant surgery is still considered experimental, the researchers are waiting on FDA approval of the procedure so they can perform it on more people.

"We transplanted just two teaspoons of islet cells into these patients 10 years ago, and they no longer need insulin injections," Larsen, who is a kidney and pancreas transplant surgeon, said of Allen and Cochran. "This has been a miraculous transformation."

Source: Emory
Photo credit: renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 
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