July 4, 2001
Question from Spring Valley, California, USA:
My 15 month old daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. How close are we to finding a cure for it?
While there are exciting developments reported commonly to treat diabetes, our prognosis for a cure remains mostly a hopeful one. There is a newer protocol from Canada which shows some good promise in islet cell transplants. The pancreatic islet cells are the insulin-producing cells. One of the main reasons that pancreas transplants (and even islet cell transplants) have failed, is that treatment doe not address the underlying cause of most cases of type 1 diabetes, which is the body’s own immune system attacking itself — a so-called ” autoimmune disease.” When a new pancreas is given, the body’s immune system often starts to reject the transplanted organ too, and in addition, anti-rejection medicines have many side effects, one of which can lead to higher glucose readings! The combination of medicines in this newer protocol shows some promise in keeping the rejection in check and not requiring medicines that otherwise affect the blood glucose. This protocol is now in clinical trials at other centers through the United States, but not for children (as far as I am aware).
Once the immune system has disrupted a patient’s own insulin producing capacities, it does not appear that they can be “recharged” so a cure without a transplant is bleak, but some research in stem cells also holds some promise to “regrow” islet cells.