Participants reported the greatest improvements in diabetes-related quality of life (QOL) and better overall health status even though they would need lifelong immune-suppressing drugs to prevent transplant rejection.
The study, conducted by the Clinical Islet Transplantation Consortium, involved 48 people with hypoglycemia unawareness who experienced frequent episodes of severe hypoglycemia despite receiving expert care. Each participant received at least 1 islet transplant.
One year after the first transplant, 42 participants (88%) were free of severe hypoglycemic events, had near-normal blood glucose control, and had restored awareness of hypoglycemia. About half of the recipients needed to continue on insulin to control blood glucose, but the reported improvements in QOL were similar between those who did and those who did not. The researchers say the elimination of severe hypoglycemia and the associated fears outweighed concerns about the need for continued insulin treatment.
Islet transplantation is investigational in the US. Although the results are promising, the National Institutes of Health cautions that the process is not appropriate for all patients with type 1 diabetes mellitus due to risks and adverse effects.