THOUSANDS of diabetics could be effectively “cured” thanks to a major breakthrough by Scottish scientists.
Patients could now have an islet cell transplant to prevent life-threatening complications including seizures.
The breakthrough enables scientists to take cells from the pancreas and change their function to produce insulin.
The research was carried out by the University of Aberdeen, the Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh and the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service.
Islet cells – which occur naturally in the pancreas – produce insulin, which enables the body to store glucose. However, not enough of these cells can be provided by a single donor, so patients can wait months before a second pancreas becomes available.
The breakthrough, published in the journal Diabetes, could enable pancreatic cells – other than islets – to be developed for transplant.
The effects would also be longer lasting than at present as more cells would be transplanted. Islet cell transplants are given to Type 1 diabetics, who are unable to make insulin and are dependent on insulin injections.
John Casey, of the University of Edinburgh and also lead clinician for the National Islet Transplant Programme in Scotland, said: “There is a shortage of organ donors, which is not helped by the need for two pancreases to be donated to treat each diabetic patient.
“Developing previously unusable cells to produce insulin means that fewer donors would be needed, which would make a huge difference to patients waiting for transplants operations.”
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