A breakthrough treatment for diabetes will be the centrepiece of a public meeting at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead next week.
The Royal Free is one of only three centres in the UK to offer pancreatic islet transplants to some diabetic patients.
“This is not a miracle cure, nor is it the end of diabetes, but it is a very important development and makes it possible to achieve better control than is possible with conventional insulin injections,” said Dr Martin Press, consultant endocrinologist at the Royal Free. “Patients may still need to use insulin at a reduced dose but their diabetes is stabilised, their quality of life is improved and the risk of complications is reduced.”
Dr Press will be joined at the meeting by a patient who has had a transplant and will speak about her experiences. There will also be sessions about the possible use of stem cell technology to further the procedure and the immunological implications of such transplants.
This is a public meeting, open to all with an interest in type 1 diabetes. It will run from 5 to 8pm on 7 September.
Islet transplants are suitable only for patients with type 1 diabetes. Complications of diabetes can include blindness, loss of circulation (with possible resulting amputation) kidney failure and sexual dysfunction. Patients with this type of diabetes are likely to develop it in childhood and have constantly fluctuating blood sugar levels
Transplants of the whole pancreas have been carried out in the past but this requires major surgery and carries a high complication rate. Diabetics need only the islets, the cells which produce insulin, and now a method has been found to isolate those cells and transplant them through an injection – eliminating the need for any surgery.
Dr Press explained the benefits of and limitations on the use of this procedure. “As things stand it is only appropriate in a very small number of patients whose lives are being made a misery by their diabetes. This is because, although the transplant brings about fantastic diabetic control, the patient has to go onto immunosuppressive drugs for the rest of his or her life to prevent rejection of the transplanted islets. In due course, better immunosuppressive drugs will become available and alternative sources of beta cells, perhaps from stem cells, will make the technique more widely available. It is very important that we in Britain do not get left behind by the rest of the world.”