Islet transplant: Changing lives for people with diabetes
Islets are clusters of cells which produce insulin, a hormone that allows the body to control the flow of energy from food, storing the excess after meals and releasing it to allow the body to function between meals. In Type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakenly destroys the cells within islets so patients have to take insulin by injection. Patients with hard-to-control or "brittle" diabetes face life-threatening low or high blood sugars and long-term complications.

Between March 1999 and October 2019, 255 patients received islet transplants by infusion into their livers. Seventy per cent of the grafts survived for a median time of nearly six years. The researchers reported that a combination of two anti-inflammatory medications given during the first two weeks following transplant significantly increased long-term islet function.

The transplant recipients have to take lifelong immunosuppression drugs, which in some cases lead to skin cancer or infection, but most such complications were not fatal during the study period.

Seventy-nine per cent of the transplant recipients were able to stop taking insulin after two or more islet infusions and a median time of 95 days following the first transplant. Sixty-one per cent were still insulin-independent a year later, 32 per cent at five years and eight per cent after 20 years, the researchers reported. While most patients had to resume taking insulin injections, the doses were usually much smaller than their original needs and their diabetes control was better.