A cure for type 1 diabetes could be on the horizon after three patients were freed from daily insulin injections with a ground-breaking stem cell therapy.
Almost 220,000 people live with type 1 diabetes in Britain, a condition which destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.
In a new treatment, scientists used stem cells from dead donors to create healthy beta cells and transplanted them into seven diabetic patients. Results released at a conference on Tuesday showed that three trial participants no longer need daily injections, while a further three showed improved blood sugar control.
Professor Trevor Reichman from Toronto General Hospital in Canada, who led the trial, said: “These results are truly remarkable and offer hope of a life-changing therapy for people who suffer from the relentless life-long burden of type 1 diabetes.
“All patients who have been treated have shown improvement across all measures of glucose control, including reduction or even elimination of external insulin use.”
Larger trial set to take place
One trial patient who had lived with severe type 1 diabetes for 42 years has now been insulin independent for 15 months. Another, who had a 19-year history of diabetes, has been injection-free for six months.
People living with type 1 diabetes self-manage their condition by regularly checking their blood glucose levels and injecting insulin. However, hypoglycaemia, or low blood glucose, can occur. If not corrected quickly, hypoglycaemia can cause loss of consciousness, coma and seizures.
The new treatment, called VX-880 was developed by London and Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals. It involves transplanting lab-grown insulin-producing beta cells to replace allowing the body to produce insulin again.
A larger trial is now due to take place at King’s College Hospital in Camberwell, south London.
A&E testing could catch undiagnosed diabetes
The research was presented at the Annual Meeting of The European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) in Hamburg.
Another study presented at the same event found that A&E testing could catch undiagnosed diabetes cases in four of 10 people.
Researchers tested the blood sugar levels of 1,388 random patients, who had no diabetes diagnosis, arriving at an emergency department in Tameside, Greater Manchester.
They found that nine per cent, or 120 people, had type 2 diabetes, while a further 30 per cent, or 420 people, had prediabetes, in a study that will be presented at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes today.
The researchers said “opportunistic screening” at emergency departments could help catch “ tens of thousands” of cases of diabetes each year.
Professor Edward Jude, lead author from Tameside and Glossop NHS Trust said: “Early diagnosis is the best way to avoid the devastating complications of type 2 diabetes, and offers the best chance of living a long and healthy life.”
He said symptoms “can be tricky to spot in the early stages and the condition can go undetected for up to 10 years”, adding that this could “lead to long-term complications such as heart disease, nerve damage and retinopathy.”