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Islet transplants for diabetics fail to live up to hype; patients are back on insulin within two years

Thursday, September 28, 2006 by: Jessica Fraser
Tags: diabetes, diabetic treatments, islet cells

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(NewsTarget) A new study appearing in today's New England Journal of Medicine indicates that a procedure involving transplants of insulin-making cells into patients with type 1 diabetes provides only temporary relief from the need for insulin shots.

The study involved 36 patients with severe type 1 diabetes -- in which the body lacks insulin, forcing patients to inject it to control blood sugar -- at nine clinics in the United States, Europe and Canada. Patients had a tube surgically inserted into a vein in the abdomen that drips insulin-making islet cells from the pancreas of a dead donor into the recipient's liver. The cells take up residence in tiny blood vessels, and patients must take immune-suppressing drugs for life to prevent rejection of the tube.

Though the transplanted cells did relieve the need for insulin shots, 10 of the study subjects' transplants failed completely within a year. Sixteen of the patients were able to go off insulin completely, and the remaining 10 needed less insulin than before the transplant. However, after two years, only five patients were still free of insulin shots, and a quarter had to switch immune-suppressing drugs because of negative side effects, including reduced kidney function.

"The reason these highly technical, Western approaches to diabetes don't work is because none of them address the true cause of diabetes in the first place," says natural health advocate Mike Adams, a former pre-diabetic and author of "How to Halt Diabetes in 25 Days.""You cannot solve diabetes by merely focusing on the pancreas. You have to look at the whole patient -- their food choice, intake of dietary chemicals and level of physical exercise."

The researchers -- led by Dr. A.M. James Shapiro of the University of Alberta -- found after initially developing the procedure in 2000 that the immune-suppressing drugs patients were on killed off too many of the islet cells. Shapiro switched to a less toxic immune-suppressing drug and found limited success, though half to three-quarters of the islet transplant cells still died. Shapiro believes that if more cells survive, transplant patients could go longer without insulin.

So far the procedure is mostly used in studies on type 1 diabetics, and is not available as a treatment option. About 1 million Americans suffer from type 1 diabetes, though roughly 20 million suffer from obesity-induced type 2 diabetes. Both forms of the disease can have side effects that include blindness, kidney failure and restricted circulation that can lead to amputations.

Adams says many diabetics can control their condition without drugs or surgery. "There is no surgery that will ever cure diabetes," he says. "But for many, the condition can be cured in three weeks through simple dietary and lifestyle changes."


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