Islet Transplants Boost Quality of Life for People with Type 1 Diabetes
Quality of life for people with type 1 diabetes who had frequent severe hypoglycemia—a potentially fatal low blood glucose (blood sugar) level—improved consistently and dramatically following transplantation of insulin-producing pancreatic islets, according to findings published online Mar. 21 in Diabetes Care. The results come from a phase 3 clinical trial funded by NIAID and NIDDK.
The greatest improvements were seen in diabetes-related quality of life. Islet recipients also reported better overall health status after transplant, despite the need for lifelong treatment with immune-suppressing drugs to prevent transplant rejection. Researchers observed these improvements even among transplant recipients who still required insulin therapy to manage their diabetes.
The study was conducted by the NIH-funded Clinical Islet Transplantation Consortium.
“Although insulin therapy is life-saving, type 1 diabetes remains an extremely challenging condition to manage,” said NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci. “For people unable to safely control type 1 diabetes despite optimal medical management, islet transplantation offers hope for improving not only physical health but also overall quality of life.”
Pancreatic islets release the hormone insulin, which helps control blood glucose levels. In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in islets.
People with the disease must take insulin to live, but insulin injections or pumps cannot control blood glucose levels as precisely as insulin released naturally from the pancreas. Even with diligent monitoring, blood glucose can often reach levels that are higher or lower than normal.
A low blood glucose level, or hypoglycemia, typically is accompanied by tremors, sweating, nausea and/or heart palpitations. These symptoms prompt the person to eat or drink to raise their blood glucose.
“People with type 1 diabetes who are at high risk for hypoglycemic events have to practice caution every moment, even while sleeping. It is an exhausting endeavor that—like the events themselves—can keep them from living full lives,” said NIDDK director Dr. Griffin Rodgers. “Although islet transplantation remains experimental, we are very encouraged by these findings, as we are by the rapid improvements in other treatments to help people with type 1 diabetes monitor and manage their blood glucose, including artificial pancreas technology.”