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December 13, 2002

Transplants

Question from Owensboro, Kentucky, USA:

I have been following progress of adults having cell transplants, and there have been so good successes. Is there a study going on as to how successful this procedure would be in children? How can I find out more information on this?

Answer:

About two years ago, a group in Canada reported the first consistent success in islet cell transplantation. This conspicuous step forward has been limited however for two reasons. First of all, it took the islets from two and sometimes three donors and secondly it was still necessary to commit to a lifetime of immunosuppressive drugs. It is because of this second problem especially, that no clinical studies of this procedure in children have yet been permitted in the U.S.

At the same time, a great deal of research is going on, some very promising indeed, on the ways to avoid long term immunosuppression and also into developing techniques for culturing human islet cells or genetically engineering a persons own cells so that they produce insulin in response to a blood sugar rise. All this is still probably at least ten years away from any routine clinical application, but, in the meantime there have been important advances in the ways insulin is given and even faster progress is being made in the development of an external pancreas where an implanted glucose sensor is connected safely to an insulin pump.

DOB