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New diabetes therapy avoids pancreas transplant

A new technique is giving some type 1 diabetes patients back their lives without the need for a transplant.
December 27, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
For those with type 1 diabetes, varying levels of insulin can lead to dangerously low blood sugar, a life-threatening condition. For some, the only alternative is a pancreas transplant. Now a new technique is giving these patients their lives back without the need for a transplant or insulin.

Working out has always been a part of life for Rick Cataldi. But when he developed type 1 diabetes 15 years ago, wild blood-sugar swings threatened to take his life. Diabetes led to a massive heart attack and another scare later with his wife-to-be.

"She came over to the house and I was sitting there conscious, like comatose, opened eyes with foam coming out of my mouth," said Rick.

Then Rick found out about a new therapy involving insulin-producing cells known as islets. Lead investigator Doctor Ali Naji was amazed with the results.

"These patients have gone through a metamorphosis you'd never believe," said Dr. Naji, a kidney and pancreas transplant specialist.

His study at the University of Pennsylvania included 12 adult patients who had a dangerous condition in which they had no warning signs of low blood sugar.

Researchers say the purified islets are injected into the patient's liver, where they settle and produce insulin. They found when harvested cells are given a short period of rest before a transplant, it increases the success rate.

"Then they start to sense what's the blood glucose level of the recipient and they just precisely produce the right amount of insulin needed," said Dr. Naji.

Two years after therapy, Rick Cataldi is completely off insulin and has perfect blood sugars. And that's keeping him riding high on life.

After their islet transplant, all the patients in the study were able to stop daily insulin injections and have remained so for at least a year.


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