Type 1 diabetes patient is insulin-free for first time in 24 years

August 20, 2015 | by Jeanne Kelley

islet cell transplantation successful Type 1 diabetes patient Gina Marchini, shown here near her home in Palmer, Alaska, underwent an islet cell transplant at City of Hope in July. Two weeks later, she was hiking – without insulin.

Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 9 years old, Gina Marchini accepted the fact that she would need insulin the rest of her life. Every day, she injected herself with the lifesaving hormone. She also carefully controlled her diet and monitored the rise and fall of her blood glucose with military precision.

That was before her islet cell transplant.

“I thought diabetes was a life sentence. Now, I'm insulin-free," said the 33-year-old kindergarten teacher from Palmer, Alaska.

Even now she finds it hard to believe. Only hours after the surgery that provided her with insulin-producing islet cells of her own, Marchini's doctors told her that her glucose levels were at normal levels. Within a few days, she was able to forgo insulin altogether.

"I thought there was no way around it without my insulin shots, but now, after checking my blood sugar levels every two hours for days on end with results in the nondiabetic range, I’m starting to believe I’m free,” Marchini said.

The results of the recently opened trial have yet to be written or even completed. But, as one of the approximately 1.25 million Americans diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, Marchini highlights the improvements and goals in diabetes research – as well as the still almost inconceivable promise of a life free of needles and restrictions.{C}

A pioneer in islet cell transplantation, City of Hope is using its current clinical trial to refine its transplantation protocol, which depletes disease-causing immune cells while sparing helpful immune cells.

“The immune-suppression strategy used in this trial is considered a significant improvement over the protocol used in previous islet cell transplant trials, because under this new protocol, which includes an ATG (antithymoglobbulin) induction, the immune system will not harm the transplant,” said Fouad Kandeel, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Clinical Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism at City of Hope, who is leading the islet cell transplantation trial.

In previous studies of this strategy, 60 percent of patients were able to produce sufficient insulin on their own five years after transplant. Researchers believe that even those patients who still require supplemental insulin through injections will nonetheless likely have improved blood glucose control from partial islet function, Kandeel said.

Marchini doesn't know how long her newfound glucose control will last, but she said that, before having the transplant, she would have been thrilled if her glucose had stayed within the nondiabetic range for several hours.

She encourages other patients to not give up hope.

"I want all diabetics to know that their disease – and the struggles it brings – is not forgotten, and exciting research toward a cure is being done right now.  It feels like diabetes is a disease that is very misunderstood and often overlooked, but curing this awful disease is a priority at City of Hope." She added:

"I truly believe that one day we will all be able to say that we used to have diabetes."



Learn more about diabetes research and diabetes treatment at City of Hope.  Learn more about making an appointment or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). You may also request a new patient appointment online. City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.



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