Major advancement in islet cell transplantation for treating Type-1 diabetes

A cure for Type-1 diabetes has come closer with the development of a new method for keeping transplanted insulin-producing cells alive and functional in recipients for long periods even when transplanted underneath the skin. A team led by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine reports the new method, and its successful testing in multiple animal models, in a paper that published in Nature Metabolism.

Type-1 diabetes, which affects more than 1.25 million people in the United States, usually strikes in childhood and is caused by an abnormal immune reaction. The immune reaction attacks and destroys cells in the pancreas known as beta cells—specialized cells that cluster in groupings called “islets” and help regulate blood sugar levels by producing insulin.

Transplantation of healthy islets of beta cells from donors has long been viewed as a potential cure for the condition, which otherwise requires life-long frequent insulin injections and blood-sugar monitoring. But researchers have had difficulty keeping transplanted beta cells alive for the long-term. The new method appears largely to overcome this difficulty, as shown in a variety of subcutaneous beta-cell transplants to mice and monkeys. These preclinical demonstrations could pave the way for clinical trials in human patients.

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