Pancreas cell transplants change the lives of diabetics
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Pancreatic islet transplants, finally approved by the world’s health authorities, have shown after years of experimentation that they can transform patients’ lives.
Valerie Rodriguez does not hide her satisfaction with the revolutionary results of this treatment. This former bench coach was one of the first patients in France to undergo such a transplant on October 24 at the regional hospital center in Strasbourg (East), within the framework of existing medical care (except for a pilot project supervised by the health insurance company)..
Before the surgery, Rodriguez tried all the suggested treatments to control her blood sugar levels, with little success.
And this energetic forty-year-old explains, “I used to live constantly with a sword praying over my head.”
“There is a fear of going into a coma because of hypoglycaemia, for example if I had to eat large amounts of sugar on the freeway.”
But she says she has come back to life since the surgery and declares feeling happy on the eve of World Diabetes Day on the 14th. This technology is amazing.”
This technique is based on performing a transplantation in the pancreas of the so-called islets of Langerhans, which are cells of the pancreas responsible for the secretion of insulin, after being taken from a non-diabetic donor and in the state of clinical death..
While Valerie Rodriguez did not experience any negative side effects, she does point out that this surgical procedure, like other transplants, requires lifelong treatment to avoid the body rejecting the transplanted organs or cells.
In the case of Rodriguez, she has to take seven medications in the morning and six in the evening. “Given the frequent occurrences of low blood sugar or tiredness, I definitely prefer to have a drug breakfast,” she says.
20 year of research
The first clinical trials of this treatment took place in Canada in 1999, then in Europe, and lasted about two decades.
And in 2020, the Supreme Health Authority in France gave its approval to use this practice on some patients with chronic instability.
In December 2021, the regional hospital center in Lille, northern France, became the first French facility to perform such a transplant as part of its routine surgeries, before the Strasbourg hospital followed suit..
Valerie Rodriguez remembers: “There was a lot of interest, there were 15 people in the operating room, everyone wanted to see what was happening.”
Lawrence Kessler, professor of diabetology at the Strasbourg Hospital and member of the Francophone Society of Diabetes, recognizes that this new technology represents a major step forward for patients “and for us doctors it is the culmination of a very high level of multidisciplinary collaboration clinical research, that is a very strong recognition.”
The doctor, who studied pancreatic islets in rats to get a master’s degree in 1988, says that “at the level of the scientific process, follow-up studies are done on animals and then on humans before putting them up for adoption (experiment) ignores routine medical care, is very satisfactory.” .
This treatment is recommended to a few hundred patients annually, according to Lawrence Kessler, a negligible proportion of the 370,000 patients with type 1 diabetes, according to the French Diabetes Federation..
The diabetes specialist emphasizes that “this number is limited, but it is essential because it is associated with patients who do not find any other treatment alternative and we are just beginning: this treatment can be prescribed to other patients with whom a treatment has failed, for example in diseases of the pancreas or cystic fibrosis.”.
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