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Is a permanent cure for diabetes on the cards?

By TR Pakistan

Doctors from the University of Miami’s Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) have, during clinical trials, successfully cured a patient with Type 1 diabetes using a new method of injecting islet cells into a patient. It has now been confirmed that the patient no longer requires insulin therapy.

Type 1 diabetes is caused by a body’s own immune system, where instead of attacking viruses and harmful bacteria, it attacks islet or insulin-producing cells. Once too many of them are destroyed, the body stops producing insulin required to decrease the amount of sugar in the bloodstream. The insulin injected helps sugar to enter into cells as its presence in the bloodstream may cause life-threatening complications.

Wendy Peacock, DRI’s first patient to have successfully completed the new therapy, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 17. She has been giving herself insulin injections and following a strict daily schedule since then. Now at 43, after undergoing the minimally invasive surgery (in 2015) in this new trial, her body has started producing insulin naturally and she no longer needs injections or a strict diet plan prescribed to for those with Type 1 diabetes.

Read more: The Tech Healthcare Revolution Pakistan Needs

In this trial, doctors had injected the islet cells into the omentum, a tissue that wraps around the abdominal organs, instead of the liver like previous trials. The cells were delivered into the tissue through a biodegradable scaffolding. The scaffold was produced by mixing the patient’s blood with thrombin, a chemical used in surgeries to control bleeding. Thrombin and the blood together form a gel-like substance that keeps the islet cells in place. The islet cells receive oxygen and necessary nutrients when the gel absorbs into the body. This enables the cells to start producing insulin. If injected into the liver, the islet cells are at a higher risk of being rejected or dying.

This clinical trial also featured efforts to create a BioHub, a bioengineered “mini” organ meant to mimic the functions of pancreas, to be able to effectively cure diabetes.

Currently, an anti-rejection therapy is being used with all patients undergoing the new procedure to ensure that the body accepts the islet cells in the long term. Commenting on Peacock’s case, Dr. Camillo Ricordi, the director of the DRI, has said, “She is like a nondiabetic person but she requires anti-rejection drugs. When you can do it without anti-suppression, then it will be a cure”.

Statistics compiled by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) in 2015 show that prevalence of diabetes in the adult population of Pakistan was around 6.9 percent, affecting a little over seven million people. Diabetes-related deaths in the year were recorded at 86,354 and government’s expenditure at USD46 per person.

A scorecard prepared for the country by the IDF stated, “Pakistan is beginning to take action to respond to the challenge of diabetes but progress needs to be made on a national plan and preventive policies, as well as monitoring and surveillance.”

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