Novel Transplant Technique Frees Type 1 Diabetes Patient from Insulin Therapy

‘Cured!’ may be the statement on the lips of Type 1 diabetes patients in the next few decades, following a recent announcement by the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI), University of Miami Miller School of Medicine (UMMSM), Miami, Florida, USA that the first patient in its clinical trial has been free from insulin injections in record time. Islet cells within a biological scaffold were implanted into a 43-year-old patient in a minimally invasive procedure in August of this year. The patient is now producing her own insulin naturally for the first time since her diagnosis at age 17.

In the pilot study that is taking place at the DRI, researchers are testing a novel transplant technique for insulin-producing cells, an advancement upon decades of progress in clinical islet transplantation. This constitutes an important first step towards the production of the DRI BioHub, a bioengineered mini-organ that imitates the pancreas to restore natural insulin production in people with Type 1 diabetes.

While islet transplantation is not in itself novel, this study is an important step in revolutionising the treatment. Islet cells are currently infused into the liver, however many cells do not survive in that environment. “This was the first tissue-engineered islet transplant using a ‘biodegradable scaffold’ implanted on the surface of the omentum. The technique has been designed to minimise the inflammatory reaction that is normally observed when islets are implanted in the liver or in other sites with immediate contact to the blood. If these results can be confirmed, this can be the beginning of a new era in islet transplantation. Our ultimate goal is to include additional technologies to prevent the need for lifelong anti-rejection therapy,” said Dr Camillo Ricordi, Director of the DRI and the Stacy Joy Goodman Professor of Surgery, Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Microbiology and Immunology, UMMSM.

“We are quite excited. This has been the best outcome we have seen at this stage. It is a unique site, the surgery is very simple, and the patient recovers very quickly. We will continue until our final goal – islet transplantation without immunosuppression,” added Dr Rodolfo Alejandro, Professor of Medicine and Director of the DRI Clinical Cell Transplant Program.

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