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Cure for Diabetes? Stem Cell Transplant Success Key

By Suellen Hide, Herald and Weekly Times, November 3, 2007

The cure for Type-1 diabetes may only be days away claim scientists in Melbourne.

Eliminating the need  for daily insulin injections, scientists will administer a pioneering treatment that involves transplanting insulin-producing cells from healthy donor tissue in a patient afflicted with diabetes.

Patients should be able to produce insulin naturally say researchers at St Vincent's Institute.

A good match between patient and donor is the only detail the doctors are waiting on.

Institute director Prof Tom Kay said his team was on standby for the transplant, which could be "tomorrow or in a few weeks, but no longer than that".

This week in Melbourne, the Diabetes Center for Clinical Research Excellence was officially opened.  This marked the first dedicated center of its kind in Australia and the news of the study was released in conjunction with the opening.

In order to wrestle with the nation's diabetes epidemic, some of the state's best minds from the University of Melbourne and St. Vincent's will unite at the center.

When immune mechanisms destroy the clusters of insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas (called islets), the result is Type-1 diabetes said Professor Kay.

But a method has been developed to prevent beta cells from being targeted by T cells.  The technique was developed by the team and doctors from Sydney's Westmead.

To reduce the need for immunosuppression therapy and protect the transplanted beta cells, the team's approach involves over-expressing the right cells that stop cell death in the body.

The transplant will soon be available to all Type-1 patients, but initially, it will only work for those patients who are hyperglycemic diabetics (those who have trouble administering insulin) said Professor Kay.

"The problem is there is not enough organ or tissue donation to offer this to everyone," he said.

"Patients need anti-rejection drugs for the transplant, so it is a trade-off between taking insulin and powerful anti-rejection drugs."

Through developments in stem cell medicine, eventually there would be a plentiful supply of tissue said Professor Kay.

"And there are advances being made in using pig islets instead of human islets," he said.

"And one day there may not be a need for anti-rejection drugs."

With more that a million Australian's suffering from diabetes, the disease is a national health priority.  The condition is a major cause of strokes, amputations, kidney disease, blindness, and heart disease.


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