Celly the Cell has news about a possible cure.
Lots of breakthroughs over the years have made life better for people who have diabetes, but nothing close to a cure has been found: until now. Celly the Smart Cell tells all about it:
Did you know there's exciting news about a possible cure for diabetes? It's called islet cell transplantation. It sounds like "EYE-let," but it means getting new cells that make insulin. Come with me to see.
How could this cure diabetes? Diabetes is caused when a person's body attacks its own beta cells, which are inside the islets. The beta cells produce insulin, and it helps turn the food you eat into fuel for your cells. Without it, you must take insulin shots every day to live.
Islet cell transplantation could change that. Doctors can transplant the pancreas, which contains the islets, but that requires major surgery and you have to take drugs that can have bad side effects. So it's not really a cure.
But if they could transplant just the islets, where the beta cells are, someday kids like you could receive an injection of new cells and not have to live with diabetes!
The bad news is that islet transplantation is still experimental. There's a long, long way to go to make it a treatment for everyone. Especially kids.
But there's good news! In 1999, scientists in Canada performed islet transplants on seven patients with diabetes, and these transplants were far more successful than ever before! The procedure they used is now called the "Edmonton Protocol," named for the city where it was done. It established "proof of principle" for islet transplants, proving for a fact that islet transplantation can work.
Even so, it's very difficult. An islet transplant is considered a success if it produces normal blood sugars in a patient for at least one year. Before the Edmonton Protocol, only 1 in 10 were successful. Now, 8 in 10 are!
Why is more research needed? Well, you can't run out and get your own transplant just yet. There have only been about 300 performed since 1999.
There are a couple of big reasons why. The first is that there aren't enough islets for everyone, because:
- Islets are fragile, so they are difficult to isolate, and
- There just aren't enough to cure everyone.
Scientists are working now to figure out how to use fewer islets per procedure. And scientists are trying to get more islets. Here are some possibilities:
- Stem cells: possibly an infinite supply, but have political and moral/ethical issues.
- Animal cells: plenty of supply, but could spread animal disease to humans.
- Genetic engineering of cells: possibly an infinite supply, but face complex technical difficulties.
The other big problem facing researchers is "tolerance" of the islets by the body.
- The immune system—the body's natural defense mechanism—wants to fight transplants of all kinds because it sees that they are "foreign" to the body.
- The diabetic body in particular is a problem: It attacked its own islets in the first place.
- Powerful drugs ("immunosuppressants"), even the Edmonton Protocol's less toxic ones, are needed to allow the transplants to survive, leaving the body at risk for other serious illnesses.
Obviously, a lot more research is needed! Fortunately, it's happening—all over the world. JDRF has put islet transplantation on the fast track and is tackling the problems of supply and tolerance. The National Institutes of Health and JDRF have created the Immune Tolerance Network. Additional centers are using the Edmonton Protocol, which is being fine-tuned all the time.
How can I help? Kids like you, and your families, can raise money for a cure. You can form a JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes team, and the money you raise will pay for islet transplants!
You can also be a daily advocate for diabetes awareness simply by talking about it. Use diabetes in your school reports and science projects. And, hey, maybe you are a budding scientist who will help cure diabetes one day.
Where Do Pancreases Come From? A cadaver is the body of a person who has died. Organs are obtained from cadavers 1) with the permission of the donor before death (many people make it known they would like to be an organ donor when obtaining a driver's license, where it is clearly marked) and his or her family, and 2) after the person is determined to have no brain function, while machines are still maintaining the vital organs. The pancreas and its islets must be taken out ("recovered") rapidly. The time from removal of the pancreas to injection of islets into the patient with diabetes is limited, generally only 12 hours, although new advances are giving doctors more time.
2,000: Pancreases available in U.S. for islet transplants each year.
About 1 million: Islets from a healthy pancreas.
700,000: Islets needed per transplant for a 150-pound person.
At least 1: Islet transplant needed to be free from insulin.
At least 1: Pancreas needed per transplant patient.
More than 1 million: Patients with Juvenile in the U.S. alone.
Are You Eligible for a Transplant? To be eligible for an islet transplant, patients must be between 18 and 65 and have had juvenile diabetes for at least five years. They also must have poor control or a history of repeated low blood sugar episodes. In other words, they must have "brittle" diabetes.
Although the Edmonton Protocol is being taught and used at more centers as part of a bigger trial, there are still very few slots available for patients. It is experimental, and patients are willing participants in trials that are testing it as well as new protocols.