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HomeHealthBreakthrough Cell Transplant Frees 59-Year-Old from Diabetes Medication

Breakthrough Cell Transplant Frees 59-Year-Old from Diabetes Medication

A 59-year-old patient who had an innovative cell transplant in 2021 has been living without medication since 2022. This experimental procedure involved creating artificial insulin-producing cells, which help regulate blood sugar levels. The patient had type 2 diabetes for 25 years and had almost completely lost these islet cells, putting him at high risk for severe complications and requiring multiple daily insulin injections to avoid diabetic coma.

“He was at great risk of serious diabetes complications,” said Yin Hao, a leading researcher at Shanghai Changzheng Hospital, in an interview with The Paper.

The patient received the cell transplant in July 2021. Within eleven weeks, he no longer needed external insulin, and his oral medication dosage was gradually reduced until it was completely stopped a year later. “Follow-up examinations showed that the patient’s pancreatic islet function was effectively restored,” Yin said. The patient has now been insulin-free for 33 months.

This medical breakthrough was achieved by doctors and researchers from Shanghai Changzheng Hospital, the Centre for Excellence in Molecular Cell Science under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Renji Hospital, and it was published in the journal Cell Discovery on April 30.

The team used the patient’s own peripheral blood mononuclear cells, transforming them into “seed cells” that reconstituted pancreatic islet tissue in an artificial environment.

Yin emphasized that this breakthrough is significant progress in regenerative medicine, where the body’s own regenerative capabilities are harnessed to treat illnesses. “Our technology has matured and it has pushed boundaries in the field of regenerative medicine for the treatment of diabetes,” he said.

Diabetes is a chronic condition affecting the body’s ability to convert food into energy. Insulin, produced by islets in the pancreas, is crucial for regulating blood sugar levels. In diabetes, this system malfunctions: either the body does not produce enough insulin, or it cannot use insulin effectively.

Type 2 diabetes, the most common form, affects nearly 90% of people with diabetes and is largely diet-related, developing over time. Without proper management, diabetes can lead to serious complications, including heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “there isn’t a cure yet for diabetes.”

Treatment typically involves weight loss, healthy eating, medication, and frequent insulin injections and monitoring.

Scientists worldwide are exploring islet transplantation as a promising alternative, primarily by creating islet-like cells from human stem cell cultures. After more than a decade of work, this team of Chinese scientists has made significant progress.

According to a World Health Organization report, there are an estimated 77 million adults with type 2 diabetes in India, and nearly 25 million at high risk of developing diabetes soon.

China, which has the highest number of diabetes patients worldwide, faces a significant healthcare burden. According to the International Diabetes Federation, 140 million people in China have diabetes, with 40 million dependent on lifelong insulin injections. This new cell therapy could substantially reduce this healthcare load.

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