A discovery has helped make the process of pancreatic cell transplantation for those with type 1 diabetes more reliable, researchers have said.

Islet transplantation involves moving cells from a donor pancreas into another person in a bid to improve their condition. When it works it can be hugely beneficial, but it is a long and complicated procedure and often many of the cells fail to “engraft” and die.

A team from the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) in Switzerland say they have found a way to make more robust cells that are more likely to adapt to their new environment.

The research was based on cell clusters called islets of Langerhans. Using mice, they found that adding a form of stem cell taken from the placenta called the amniotic epithelial cells can help improve the outcome of the procedure.

Thierry Berney, Professor in the Department of Surgery at University of Geneva (UNIGE) Faculty of Medicine and Head of HUG Transplant Division, said: “These cells, very similar to stem cells, are already used in other therapies, such as corneal repair for example.

“In our case, we found that they can promote the function of pancreatic cells, which is to produce hormones according to fluctuations in sugar levels.”

The discovery has shown that transplanted cells engraft better and start producing insulin far more quickly when treated in this way.

The first author of the study Fanny Lebreton, also a researcher in at the UNIGE Faculty of Medicine, said: “Even with few cell clusters, our super islets adapted very well to their new environment and quickly became vascularised.”

The next step is to trial these findings on human beings, which the team say could be completed fairly swiftly as amniotic epithelial cells are already used in other clinical settings without adverse side effects.

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