I've seen some preliminary information recently about "encapsulated" islet cell transplants that possibly could be put into a diabetic, and supply insulin, without the need for the anti-rejection drugs that are usually recommended for standard transplants of pancreas or other organs. Do you have any comments?
The idea of encapsulating pancreatic islet cells has been around for a while. By putting the cells inside a "jelly bubble," they are protected from attack by the immune cells of the body. The cells can produce insulin unmolested. Unfortunately, they don't respond to the amount of glucose in the bloodstream.
In 1994, the first report of a successful human experiment was reported from Los Angeles in which a man who had received a kidney transplant had been able to come off injected insulin after two injections of microencapsulated islets. This was good news, but the patient had been severely damaged by his diabetes, to the point of kidney failure.
It takes 8 cadaver pancreases to make enough capsules for an injection. For this reason, a lot of effort has been going into finding ways to grow human islet cells in culture.
Although this exciting breakthrough heralds a lot more research, the chances of children being treated this way are still remote. First a great deal more has to be done with individuals with advanced complications willing to undergo the risk of experimentation, then healthier adults, before children could be considered. At the moment, twice daily insulin injections are hugely safer.
Original posting 5 Aug 96
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