Islet cell transplant leaves Gina Marchini, who’s had type 1 diabetes, insulin-free
In general, people with type 1 diabetes must rely on daily injections of insulin to keep their blood sugars under control.
Gina Marchini was dependent injections of insulin to keep blood sugars, like many people with type 1 diabetes.
But, after a pioneering islet cell transplant, Marchini’s blood sugar levels have returned to the non-diabetic range.
“I thought diabetes was a life sentence,” said Marchini. “Now, I’m insulin-free.”
Marchini’s responsible transformation is the result of a pioneering islet cell transplant trial from City of Hope, a non-profit research centre in California. It’s cutting edge stuff – the results of the trial are yet to be written up – but there’s already evidence that it could make a difference.
“I thought there was no way around it without my insulin shots, but now, after checking my blood sugar levels every two hours for days on end with results in the non-diabetic range, I’m starting to believe I’m free.”
The new trial builds on similar ones conducted at City of Hope, some of which have been highly successful in their own right. A previous study found that 60 per cent of patients were able to produce enough insulin on their own to need no insulin injections for up to five years after the transplant. Even those who still needed to inject found it easier to control their blood glucose as a result of the treatment.
Gina’s new independent insulin production isn’t perfect: she has to take immunosuppressant drugs orally every 12 hours, but in her view it’s a preferable alternative to insulin. The effects of immunosuppressant drugs are both positive and negative. While they do counter the damaging effects of an autoimmune disease, they also impair the ability of the immune system to do good things, like fight infection.
Marchini doesn’t know if she’ll ever need to take insulin injections again. But the transplant has given her hope.
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