Diabetes Therapy Cuts Need for Shots

By Gribbin, August | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 7, 2000 | Go to article overview

Diabetes Therapy Cuts Need for Shots


Gribbin, August, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


A team of Canadian researchers has succeeded in eliminating the need for insulin-dependent diabetics to take the drug - a remarkable breakthrough that signals a cure for the disease is possible.

Scientists at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, led by Drs. James Shapiro and Jonathan Lakey, transplanted insulin-producing cells harvested from donated pancreases into seven severely diabetic patients. Almost as soon as a sufficient number of cells was injected into the patients' bloodstreams, they settled in the patients' livers and started producing life-preserving insulin.

The seven patients then stopped their insulin injections. They began eating normal diets and discarding the rigid regimes that dominated their lives as Type 1 diabetics.

In a phone interview, Dr. Shapiro said he considered the team's results "a truly major step forward. They show transplant works - works effectively and controls many of the difficulties diabetics experience. These patients were having devastating comas. The transplant completely eliminated them. It reversed the disease's complications."

The New England Journal of Medicine reported the experiment's results and details of the Canadians' achievement yesterday. In arresting fashion, it announced the article was being presented almost two months before its July 27 publication date because of its "potential therapeutic implications."

Still, says Dr. Stephen Clement, director of Georgetown University's Diabetes Center: "It is not a cure. It's close, and it's a big, dramatic leap, but it's not a cure. It doesn't translate into a therapy we can do in every medical center in the United States overnight. And there are issues to overcome."

Dr. David M. Harlan, a National Institutes of Health specialist in transplantation and immunology, says Drs. Shapiro and Lakey have us "sailing beyond the horizon. We don't know what's out there. We don't know if we have a cure."

Dr. Harlan says: "It's important to realize that diabetes rules the diabetic's life, and victims are desperate for a cure. Yet they shouldn't be unduly enthusiastic at this important development. The cure isn't there yet. The Edmonton group's breakthrough is experimental with risks and costs."

Physicians explain that the transplant therapy raises several issues yet to be resolved. It could be, for instance, that the transplanted cells could fail in months to come, necessitating renewed insulin injections until a new supply of cells becomes available. …

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