You may have heard lately about a trial to be conducted in New Zealand concerning the transplantation of Porcine (pig) cells into humans. The cells to be implanted are pig pancreatic cells, these are the cells that produce insulin and the ones that don’t work in people with Type I Diabetes. First a little back ground on Diabetes, there are two main types imaginatively named Type I and Type II, each is the result of an inability of the body to regulate glucose levels using insulin. In Type I diabetes this is caused by the immune system malfunctioning and attacking the body’s own cells, specifically those that produce insulin. This means that insulin has to be introduced to the body through another means, for many years this has been through manual injections by the sufferer. But this is not the only way, if we can somehow replace the patient’s insulin producing pancreatic cells then the need for injections could be reduced or eliminated altogether allowing those with this form of Diabetes to take as much notice of their insulin needs as you do.

This is where a company called Living Cell Technologies (LCT) comes in, LCT is a New Zealand conceived international biotechnology company that researches xenotransplantation to treat disease. This week a new trial to be conducted out of Middlemore hospital was approved. The trial will consist of inserting a gel capsule containing pig pancreatic cells into the abdomen of the patient. The gel acts to shield the transplanted cells from the patient’s immune system, otherwise procedures such as this, like organ transplants from humans, would need to be accompanied with immunosupressing drugs. These drugs stop the body attacking the transplanted tissue but also reduce the patient’s ability to fight off otherwise normal infections.  The transplanted cells should then act like the patients own pancreas and produce insulin in response to increased blood glucose levels.

The trial is small and will have only 8 participants trialling two different “Doses” of cells, if this proves to be successful then a larger trial will be planned to assess wider effectiveness of the treatment prior to making it available to the Type I diabetes population at large. The treatment has been dubbed DiabeCell® by LCT, catchy, sounds like a high tech battery. I think work like this is very exiting, it makes me hopeful that the diseases the human body is prone to will, one by one, become a thing of the past. How cool is that?


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