Individuals with Type 1 diabetes are unable to produce their own insulin because their pancreatic islets do not function. But for people with the disease, islet transplants may offer an alternative to daily insulin injections.
Chris Larsen, MD, DPhil, director of the Emory’s Transplant Center and a kidney transplant surgeon, performs experimental islet transplants within clinical trials. Soon Larsen will assume the new roles of chair of surgery in Emory School of Medicine, surgeon-in-chief of Emory University Hospital and director of surgical services for Emory Healthcare.
Larsen says that despite advances in the transplant field, successful islet transplants still pose significant challenges for both physicians and patients.
Because the pancreas of a patient with Type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin, the patient must be given a sufficient number of transplanted islets to manufacture adequate insulin, says Larsen. Unfortunately, most people require more than one islet infusion to forgo insulin injections, he says. And transplant recipients must take toxic immunosuppressant drugs to improve long-term survival of the islets.
Furthermore, human islets available for transplantation are relatively scarce, leaving hundreds of thousands of people with Type 1 diabetes insulin dependent. Larsen believes pig islets may be a possible solution. To hear Larsen’s own words about the challenges and advances in islet transplantation, use the player at the top left of this page or subscribe to the podcast.