Insulin shots for patients with type 1 diabetes can become history. A novel site to transplant donor islet of Langerhans may give a chance to cure patients’ own failing insulin production. When transplanted into the anterior chamber of the eye of a diabetic monkey, pancreatic islets survive and produce insulin, reducing the concentration of glucose in the blood. The results are published in Diabetologia, March 2011.
Patients with type 1 diabetes suffer from lack of insulin, as the majority of pancreatic beta cells in the islets of Langerhans are destroyed. One of the ways to solve this problem is to provide the patients with functioning donor beta cells. A limitation of the method is patient’s own immune system. It will react to the transplanted cells the same way as to any other foreign material – the cells will be stepwise destroyed.
Islet transplantation surgeons around the world try to find sites more suitable for islet survival. Researchers at Biocrine have recently suggested that the anterior chamber of the eye may constitute such a site. This part of the eye has a unique immune privilege. It has also an advantage of being easily accessible for local application of immunosuppressive drugs. These two factors may lead to better survival of the transplanted islets and less problems for the patient.
A successful transplantation of pancreatic islets into the anterior chamber of a diabetic baboon eye has recently been carried out in the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami by scientists in Professor Berggren’s group at the Diabetes Research Institute in collaboration with scientists at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. Following transplantation, requirements for external insulin supply became lower, while internal insulin production became higher and glucose metabolism more stable.
Only after a few days, the islets got vascularized, thus receiving necessary blood supply. Moreover, the animal did not get any ophthalmological complications, such as loss of sight, inflammation, high eye pressure or discomfort.
The safety, simplicity, and effectiveness of transplanting the islets of Langerhans into the anterior chamber of the eye bare a promise to improve the situation for patients with type 1 diabetes.