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UK  Government To Fund Insulin Cell Transplant Therapy

The National Health Service in the UK is to roll out a programme of insulin cell therapy to help type 1 diabetics to avoid coma  inducing hypoglycaemic attacks. The government are investing an initial ten million pounds [$19.6 million USD] in the programme which will introduce insulin cell therapy to six NHS trusts across the country. Diabetes experts hope that the therapy can be enhanced in the future to provide a cure for type 1 diabetes.

How does insulin cell therapy work?

Insulin cell therapy originated in Canada in 2000, and was first trialled in the UK in 2002.  Insulin producing cells, or islet cells, are taken from the pancreas of a dead donor and inserted via injection into the liver of the patient. Type 1 diabetics are usually unable to produce insulin themselves, but an injection of fully functioning islet cells can enable them to manufacture insulin for a period of time.

Huge increase in availability of insulin cell therapy

Although there are a quarter of a million type 1 diabetics in the UK, only twelve patients have so far undergone insulin cell therapy.  These are patients that are considered to be at particularly high risk of a hypoglycaemic attack, or low blood sugar episode, which can lead to a coma and even death. With the latest government investment in this treatment, up to eighty type 1 diabetics will be able to have this therapy each year. 

Insulin cell therapy as a cure for type 1 diabetes

As well as reducing the risk of a low blood sugar attack, some type 1 diabetics that have undergone insulin cell therapy have been able to stop their insulin injections temporarily. This has lead medical experts to believe that in time insulin cell therapy will provide a cure for type 1 diabetes.

This therapy is not a permanent cure and it is believed that regular cell implants will be required for the benefits to continue. Patients will also need to take immunosuppressant medication on an ongoing basis to stop their immune system from fighting the implanted cells.  

Government to fund six trusts and two laboratories

As well as funding insulin cell therapy programmes at six NHS trusts located in London, Oxford, Newcastle, Bristol and Manchester, the UK Department of Health will also fund two new laboratories.  These will be located in London and Oxford and will be used to harvest cells from donor pancreases and prepare them for transplant. 

Although the UK government are spending a considerable amount on the insulin cell therapy programme, they believe it will save the NHS money in the long term.  Serious low blood sugar episodes cost the NHS at least fifteen million pounds annually [$29.4 million USD], just to pay for ambulance calls and hospitalisations.  Limiting the occurrence of hypoglycaemic attacks will reduce this cost, freeing up funds to be invested in further research into insulin cell therapy. 

Diabetes expert Professor Stephanie Amiel, based at King's College Hospital, said "Allowing King's and the other centres to continue to offer this life-changing treatment will have enormous benefit for those patients who are suitable for islet transplantation in its present form. It will also allow the UK to develop the technique to be suitable for more people with type 1 diabetes and may, in time, lead to a 'cure'."

Author: Lisa Janse

 Copyright 2007 - www.sugardiabetes.net - Insulin Cell Transplant Therapy

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