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Pig Pancreas Cells Help Type 1 Diabetics
Date:5/6/2010

Early trial finds technique is safe, improves blood sugar control

THURSDAY, May 6 (HealthDay News) -- Pancreatic cells from pigs that have been encapsulated have been successfully transplanted into humans without triggering an immune system attack on the new cells.

What's more, scientists report, the transplanted pig pancreas cells quickly begin to produce insulin in response to high blood sugar levels in the blood, improving blood sugar control in some, and even freeing two people from insulin injections altogether for at least a short time.

"This is a very radical and new way of treating diabetes," said Dr. Paul Tan, CEO of Living Cell Technologies of New Zealand. "Instead of giving people with type 1 diabetes insulin injections, we deliver it in the cells that produce insulin that were put into capsules."

The company said it is slated to present the findings in June at the American Diabetes Association annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

The cells that produce insulin are called beta cells and they are contained in islet cells found in the pancreas. However, there's a shortage of available human islet cells. For this reason, Tan and his colleagues used islet cells from pigs, which function as human islet cells do.

"These cells are about the size of a pinhead, and we place them into a tiny ball of gel. This keeps them hidden from the immune system cells and protects them from an immune system attack," said Tan, adding that people receiving these transplants won't need immune-suppressing drugs, which is a common barrier to receiving an islet cell transplant.

The encapsulated cells are called Diabecell. Using a minimally invasive laparoscopic procedure, the covered cells are placed into the abdomen. After several weeks, blood vessels will grow to maintain the islet cells, and the cells begin producing insulin.

The company recently released data from its initial safety trial. The
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