A few weeks ago, we mentioned an editorial that urged making islet cell transplants more widely available in the United States. This procedure — in which insulin-producing cells from a donor pancreas are given to someone with type 1 diabetes — isn’t considered a mainstream option for diabetes anywhere, since it’s expensive and requires taking drugs to suppress your immune system, which carries certain risks. But it’s a real option for difficult-to-treat diabetes in Europe, Canada and Australia.
Now, a new study from France shows just how effective islet transplants can be at improving blood glucose control and quality of life in people with type 1 diabetes.
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Published in the journal Diabetes Care, the study looked at 28 people who received an islet cell transplant over 10 years. The main outcome they were interested in was how many could maintain an HbA1c level (a measure of long-term blood glucose control) of 6.5% or less without taking any insulin.
Five years after their islet transplant, 39% of the participants maintained good blood glucose control without taking any insulin. This number dropped to 28% 10 years after the procedure. But even in participants who needed to take some insulin, most still continued to benefit from the procedure, with the transplanted cells still functioning in 82% of them after 5 years and 78% of them after 10 years. Having functioning cells was associated with better blood glucose control and needing less outside insulin.
The researchers concluded that islet cell transplants helped most participants with type 1 diabetes for at least 10 years, with better blood glucose control and fewer cases of severe hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) — even if they needed to start taking insulin again at some point.
Want to learn more about type 1 diabetes? Read “Type 1 Diabetes Questions and Answers,” “Six Type 1 Diabetes Symptoms You Need to Know” and see our type 1 diabetes videos.
A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree in government from Harvard University. He writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.