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September 8, 2002

Research: Cure

Question from Nova Scotia, Canada:

I have heard about a procedure which effectively cures people with diabetes. Part of a pancreas is donated to someone who has diabetes eliminating the need for insulin. Is this true? At what stage is this medical procedure at this time?

Answer:

It’s called pancreas transplantation and another version is islet cell transplantation, Both are experimental, very expensive, and still require expensive and potentially dangerous immunosuppression drugs for life. Excellent recent progress has moved success rates near 80%, but it is too soon to know if this will last or what long term side effects of such potent medications may be.

Most such research takes place with adults who already have pretty severe complications of diabetes since this allows such adults to give informed consent and to have more likelihood of benefit than risks. Many researchers around the world are working diligently to improve such successes but medical science is expensive and slow to try to get correct answers that maximize such benefits and minimize or remove associated risks.

You should belong to one or several diabetes organizations that provide routine research updates (American Diabetes Association and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation).

SB