For people with type 1 diabetes, a life without insulin injections and a reduced risk of damage to the heart, kidneys, blood vessels, and eyes may seem too good to be true. But that’s the goal of a new clinical trial for type 1 diabetes at the University of Minnesota’s Diabetes Institute for Immunology and Transplantation.
The University is one of seven sites in the country working toward this goal through the Clinical Islet Transplantation Consortium, funded by the National Institutes of Health. The clinical trial will determine whether islet transplantation will become an FDA-approved treatment for people with difficult-to-manage type 1 diabetes.
Islet transplantation involves isolating insulin-producing islet cells from a donor pancreas and transplanting them into the liver of someone who suffers from hypoglycemia unawareness, the inability to sense when one’s blood sugar is low. If the treatment is successful, the donor islets will sense when blood sugar is low and release the correct amount of insulin to the body.
Since 2000, the University has completed four clinical trials of islet transplantation in 26 people. About 90 percent have become insulin-independent, and more than 80 percent were protected from severe hypoglycemia in the five years post-transplant.