Thanks to artificially-grown pancreas, this Type 1 diabetes sufferer no longer needs insulin


Too often we hear of medical innovations that eventually lead nowhere. Every now and then, however, there’s good news and more importantly hope. A perfect example is the new report by the University of Miami, according to which transplanting an artificially-grown pancreas seems to have put an end to one diabetic’s reliance on insulin injections.

According to the researchers, the patient in question is a 43-year-old woman who has been suffering from Type 1 diabetes, a metabolic disease that causes pancreas to generate very little insulin, for nearly 25 years. To aid the body’s natural insulin production system, a team from University of Miami’s Diabetes Research Institute turned to biomedical engineering, using islet cells to create an artificial pancreas. Speaking about the treatment, the group’s leader David Baidal said:

Her quality of life was severely impacted. She had to move in with her parents. And, if she traveled, she had to travel with her father.

The insulin-synthesizing cells were then transplanted onto the patient’s omentum, which is basically a part of the peritoneum that joins the stomach with the surrounding abdominal organs. Omentum, the scientists explain, was chosen as site of transplantation instead of the more conventional liver to bypass any unwanted complications. Within 17 days after the surgery, the woman stopped needing insulin. Now a year later, the bioengineered cells continue to do the work of a pancreas.

The number of diabetes sufferers across the world has nearly quadrupled in the last three decades, a study by WHO reveals. In 2014, more than 422 million people had diabetes, around 30 million of whom were Americans. Approximately 2.2 million individuals died of high blood glucose-related complications in 2012. Given its epidemic nature, scientists are increasingly looking for innovative ways to keep this illness under check.

As pointed out by the team, the aim of the current research is to find a proper place where the artificial pancreatic mini-organ, which they are calling BioHub, will not only grow, but thrive for years without constant monitoring. And it seems omentum might just be the answer. Baidal added:

We’re exploring a way to optimize islet cell therapy to a larger population. This study gives us hope for a different transplant approach.

The findings of the study were recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine.


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