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Diabetes Treatment (cont.)

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The future of pancreas transplantation

Ultimately, the goal in the management of type 1 diabetes is to provide insulin therapy in a manner that mimics the natural pancreas. Perhaps the closest therapy available at this time is a transplant of the pancreas. Several approaches to pancreatic transplantation are currently being studied, including the whole pancreas and isolated islet cells (these groups of cells contain beta cells that are responsible for insulin production). Data available from 1995 indicates that almost 8,000 patients underwent pancreatic transplantation. Most patients undergo pancreatic transplantation at the time of kidney transplantation for diabetic kidney disease.

Transplantation is not without risk. Both the surgery itself and the immunosuppression that must occur afterward pose significant risks to the patient. For these reasons, the kidney and pancreas are usually transplanted at the same time. At present, there is disagreement about whole pancreas transplantation in patients not currently requiring kidney transplantation. The issue of whether the benefits outweigh the risks in these patients is under debate. There is also a chance that diabetes will occur in the transplanted pancreas. Selectively transplanting islet cells is an interesting alternative to whole pancreas transplantation. However, the concern over rejection remains. Attempts to disguise the islet cells in tissues that the body won't reject (for example, by surrounding the islet cells by the patient's own cells and then implanting them) are underway. In addition, researchers are exploring artificial barriers that can surround the islet cells, provide protection against rejection, and still allow insulin to enter the bloodstream.

A Final Word

These last few years have been an exciting time in diabetes care. Many agents for the treatment of type 2 diabetes are under development and the options for insulin therapy continue to grow and methods for insulin delivery continue to become more refined. While research continues to expand in these areas, one thing remains constant. Achieving the best blood sugar control possible remains the ultimate goal in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. We now know, beyond a doubt, that good blood sugar control minimizes the long-term complications of diabetes, including blindness, nerve damage, and kidney damage. Finally, a healthy lifestyle can do nothing should remain the cornerstone of management for diabetes.


American Diabetes Association.

FDA prescribing information.

Last Editorial Review: 4/4/2013


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