Scottish Government
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Diabetes treatment success

Twelve patients have been cured of a life threatening complication of type one diabetes thanks to an innovative Scottish transplant programme.

Eighteen months on from the first operation, the Scottish National Pancreatic Islet Transplant Programme has carried out 18 islet cell infusions, and improved the lives of 12 patients.

The process involves islets extracted from a deceased donor’s pancreas being injected into the liver of patients with type one diabetes.

This has been shown to be an effective treatment for some people with type one diabetes who have problems recognising when their blood sugar becomes dangerously low.

All of these patients are now able to recognise when their blood sugar level drops and rarely experience low levels.

The majority of patients now only require tiny amounts of regular insulin and sometimes they do not require insulin at all.

Six patients have undergone two operations, while six patients have had a single infusion of cells.

Health Secretary Alex Neil has praised the success of the programme. He said:

"In Scotland, we know that around 28,000 people currently have type one diabetes, with an estimated 2,000 not realising when their blood sugar level is low.

"This exciting programme has shown that it has the potential to transform the lives of people with this condition, and I hope it will continue to benefit many more patients in the future.

"The aim is to reduce the frequency of low blood sugars and give back the ability to recognise them. Although some patients may not achieve complete insulin independence, the treatment will dramatically reduce their dependence on insulin.

"I also want to praise the excellent work done by the staff at the SNBTS Laboratory and the Transplant Unit at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, whose ongoing close collaboration is central to the delivery of this leading programme."

Stephen Fisher, 59, was diagnosed with type one diabetes as a child and had complications with severe hypoglycaemic attacks, where his blood sugar level dropped dangerously low, for many years.

Stephen has received two islet transplants at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, and is now free of dangerous attacks.

He said: "I've lived for 50 years with diabetes. It stole my childhood and most of my adult years. Life felt as though I was on some sort of leash. Since my transplants, it feels as though the lease has being taken off and the depression that goes along with chronic illness is now a past memory and I now feel I have the brightest of futures."

Paul Orr, 40, was diagnosed with type one diabetes at the age of eight, and has now undergone an islet infusion.

Before the operation he was experiencing up to six hypoglycaemic attacks a day.

But now, 12 months on, he has excellent control of his diabetes and only requires tiny amounts of insulin.

Paul said: "Now that I have had the operation, I am extremely grateful to the Transplant team at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and to the family of my donor.

"Every day I pinch myself to see if I am dreaming as I thought this day would never come. I can feel my hypoglycaemic attacks again which is a major plus in my life and I can get on and do things independently once again.

"I’m hoping that I can get my driving licence back, as things were so bad with my diabetic control I had it revoked. It has changed my entire lifestyle for the better. I can travel around on my own without my wonderful wife, who has put up with more than her fair share of emotions over the years."

Mr John Casey, Transplant Surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and Clinical Lead for the Scottish Islet Transplant Programme, said: "All the staff in the islet programme are delighted to see the difference that this treatment has made to the lives of our patients and hope that we can continue to improve the lives of many more patients with poorly controlled diabetes."

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More Information:

The Scottish National Islet Transplant Programme was launched in November 2009. The clinical service went live in December 2010 and the first transplant took place on 17th February 2011.

The process involves the complex preparation of islets extracted from a deceased donor’s pancreas at the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service’s Islet Isolation Laboratory in Liberton, Edinburgh. The resulting islet infusions are injected into patients at the Transplant Unit at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Three of these operations have been carried out using the cells at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle and one in Bristol

It is a national service, funded by the Scottish Government, and is commissioned by NHS National Services Division.

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