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Transplant breakthrough made in Scotland

Islet cell infusions carried out on diabetic patients

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 06 July 2011

Two type 1 diabetes patients no longer require insulin injections, thanks to a UK-leading transplant programme based in Scotland.

The Scottish National Pancreatic Islet Transplant Programme, launched in November 2009, has now carried out three islet cell infusions in two patients who as a result, no longer require insulin or risk the loss of consciousness due to hypoglycaemic attack.

This has only occurred in a small number of patients in the UK. The process involves the complex preparation of islets extracted from a deceased donor's pancreas at the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service's Islet Isolation Laboratory in Liberton, Edinburgh.

The resulting islet infusions are injected into patients at the Transplant Unit at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. This has been shown to be an effective treatment for some people with type 1 diabetes who have problems managing their blood sugar.

Mr John Casey, Clinical Lead for the Scottish Islet Transplant Programme, said: "This is an important step in the treatment of diabetes in Scotland. The improved quality of life for both patients is excellent and we hope we can now offer this form of cell therapy to many, many more Scottish patients."

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said:"In Scotland, around 28,000 people currently have type 1 diabetes, with an estimated 2,000 experiencing hypoglycaemic unawareness which can have life threatening implications. This service, funded to assess around 20 patients a year, of whom 10 to 12 would be suitable for islet transplantation - has shown how it has the potential to transform the lives of people with this condition. The ideal is to make them no longer dependent on insulin injections."

The Scottish National Islet Transplant Programme is a national service, funded by the Scottish Government, at a cost of around £900,000 a year, and is commissioned by NHS National Services Division. The SNBTS laboratory is the only one in the UK specifically built and staffed to provide a clinical islet transplantation service, rather than being derived from a research laboratory and is now able to support the islet cell processing for Newcastle and possibly beyond.

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