Research reveals new possibilities for islet and stem cell transplantation

Apr 24, 2015

Credit: University of Alberta


James Shapiro, one of the world’s leading experts in emerging treatments of diabetes, can’t help but be excited about his latest research. The results he says, could soon mark a new standard for treatment—not only in diabetes, but in several other diseases as well.

Shapiro, a Canada Research Chair in Transplantation Surgery and Regenerative Medicine in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, along with Andrew Pepper, a post-doctoral fellow working in his lab, are the lead authors in a study published in the April 20 edition of the journal Nature Biotechnology. In the study, the authors describe developing a new site for under the skin, which they believe will offer less risk and far greater health benefits for patients.

Islet transplantation is a procedure that temporarily allows severe diabetics to stop taking insulin.

“Until now it has been nearly impossible for transplanted cells to function reliably when placed beneath the skin,” says Shapiro. “In these studies, we have harnessed the body’s natural ability to respond to a foreign body by growing new enriching . By controlling this reaction, we have successfully and reliably reversed  in our preclinical models. This approach is new and especially exciting as it opens up a world of opportunities, not only in diabetes, but also across the board in .”

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4 comments on “Research reveals new possibilities for islet and stem cell transplantation

  • In a type 1 diabetic, the person’s immune system has killed off their islet cells. This prevents them from producing at lease two important hormones: insulin and glucagon. Insulin allows your body to use glucose, glucagon releases stored sugars.

    If you replace a type 1 diabetic’s islet cells, it restores their body’s ability to produce these hormones, allowing the body to self regulate — essentially curing their condition.

    Lacking islet cells, type 1 diabetics must take insulin to metabolize glucose and regulate their blood glucose (BG) levels. Other than emergency use, some pre-trial artificial pancreases(*1) and transplantation of islet cells, glucagon is not part of a type 1’s daily treatment — effectively, only half of their condition is treated. Miscalculate your insulin dose for a meal or how much exercise you’re going to do (exercise increases the efficacy of insulin), and, lacking the ability to produce glucagon, your BG level can drop dangerously low.

    *1 There has recently been development of “artificial pancreas” technologies that use two medication pumps (one pumping insulin, the other pumping glucagon), a continuous BG monitor (CGM), and some algorithms to tie it all together. These aren’t nearly as good as the real thing; islet cells. (There are also some devices that claim to be an “artificial pancreas”, but do not use glucagon. These, IMHO, are a waste of effort. Go for a long bicycle ride with one of these without enough snacks, and you’ll end up unconscious in a ditch.)

    TDLR; Glucagon.

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  • Wow. Sorry for the typos in that post. “lease” = “least”, “TDLR” = “TLDR”… probably numerous others.

    I’ll blame it on my lack of glucagon.

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  • One of the kids I teach has an expensive device which has a fine needle stuck into his skin with a small insulin delivery device which is blue toothed to a digital device for checking his blood, it beeps at him and he does a skin prick into the device which then analyses his blood and doses him according. He does get reactions from the tape that holds the fine needle so it has to be moved every few days. I can only imagine how much better it would be to be able to not worry about all of that. Hope they are successful.

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