Doctors in Canada are helping eliminate daily insulin injections for patients with type 1 diabetes by carrying out islet cell transplants.
The groundbreaking work is also being conducted at record speed, with 66 islet transplants performed by physicians at the University of Alberta Hospital, Edmonto, in 2012. Of those, 61 were for diabetic patients – almost double the figure for 2011 and 10 times more than any other facility in the world.
“This is a world record and we’re very proud of it,” said Dr. James Shapiro, director of the Clinical Islet Transplant Program. “Every other program in the world is around five or six transplants, so we’re incredibly proud of what’s been achieved.”
The procedure, dubbed the ‘Edmonton Protocol,’ involves isolating islet cells, which are comprised of insulin-producing beta cells, from a healthy donor pancreas and transplanting them into a patient with severe type 1 diabetes – a disease which destroys the body’s supply of beta cells.
Once transplanted, the healthy islets begin to produce insulin, which either eliminates or reduces the patient’s dependency on insulin injections or other forms of insulin therapy for keeping blood sugar levels under control.
The procedure only takes about 20 minutes and has been carried out on around 400 type 1 diabetic patients in Edmonton since 2000, which according to officials represents about one-third of all islet transplants performed worldwide.
Patients who have received islet transplantation say they now live fuller, freer lives, with 60% now becoming insulin injection-free, compared to just 10% in 2000.
“Nobody anticipated that it was going to be so successful,” said Shapiro, adding that last year’s rise in transplant procedures was due to improvements made in isolating islet cells.

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