Healthy Living

Innovative Type 1 Diabetes Transplant Frees Patient From Insulin Injections

"You never forget that you have diabetes. You can't. It's always there."

An innovative new treatment for Type 1 diabetes shows promise, freeing a patient from insulin injections in what the Diabetes Research Institute described as "record time."

Last month, doctors at the institute, which is part of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, used a new technique to transplant insulin-producing islet cells into a woman with Type 1 diabetes. Wendy Peacock, the first patient in the clinical trial, is now living without injections of the blood sugar-regulating hormone.

Their ultimate goal, the doctors noted, is a "bioengineered mini-organ" that would essentially replace the pancreas in producing insulin.

Pictured from left to right: DRI Foundation President and CEO Joshua Rednik, transplant patient Wendy Peacock, and Drs. Camillo Ricordi and Rodolfo Alejandro.
Pictured from left to right: DRI Foundation President and CEO Joshua Rednik, transplant patient Wendy Peacock, and Drs. Camillo Ricordi and Rodolfo Alejandro.

Peacock, 43, told reporters last week that her life has been dramatically improved. She was a candidate for the experimental procedure because she had severe hypoglycemia unawareness -- meaning that she often lost consciousness due to drops in her blood sugar level. As a result, she couldn't live alone and care for her 5-year-old son.

"You never forget that you have diabetes. You can't. It's always there," Peacock said. "I wish it were just as easy as taking a few injections and you're done with it for the day, but it's nonstop."

Following the minimally invasive procedure on Aug. 18, Peacock began producing her own insulin for the first time since she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 17. Her blood glucose levels have remained within a healthy range since, according to the Miami Herald.

A key difference between the new technique and previous efforts is the location of the transplanted islet cells. In earlier experimental surgeries, donated islet cells, which normally produce insulin in the pancreas, were injected into the liver of Type 1 diabetes patients. The cells did not survive long.

In the latest procedure, doctors implanted the islet cells inside a "biodegradable scaffold" on the omentum, a lining within the abdomen:

While Peacock no longer requires insulin injections, she is on a regular regimen of anti-rejection drugs to keep her body's immune system from attacking the cells.

"If these results can be confirmed, this can be the beginning of a new era in islet transplantation," Dr. Camillo Ricordi, director of the Diabetes Research Institute, said in a statement. "Our ultimate goal is to include additional technologies to prevent the need for life-long anti-rejection therapy."

The medical team hopes to perform 20 to 30 more of these surgeries over the next year.

"It's not a prediction -- it's a promise that I make to patients [with Type 1 diabetes]," Ricordi told the Miami Herald last year. "We will defeat this disease for sure."