The Future of Diabetes Care: Islet Cell Transplantation for T1D

March 5, 2018 | by Letisia Marquez

Islet cell transplantation for treating type 1 diabetes is already used for patients in Canada, Australia and Europe, and, in a few years, the procedure could also become a standard of care in the United States.
That was great news for listeners of Doctor Radio, a Sirius XM channel, which recently featured an interview with Fouad Kandeel, M.D., Ph.D., chair of City of Hope's Department of Clinical Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism, and Elizabeth Jenkins, M.D., a Los Angeles pediatrician who received an islet cell transplant at City of Hope more than eight years ago.
“The Food and Drug Administration actually is looking at the licensing of the islets at the present time,” Kandeel said on the national show hosted by Nieca Goldberg, M.D., an associate professor of medicine and medical director of New York University's Women’s Heart Program. “They wanted to see that the islet cell transplantation has actually shown its promise from multiple centers, and the process of islet isolation is actually well-standardized."
He added: “I believe (the FDA approval) will happen within the next three years.”

Leader in islet cell tranplantation

Kandeel also explained that City of Hope is a worldwide leader in offering islet cell transplantation. The institution has performed the procedure since 2004.
Most recently, the institution’s efforts have also focused on finding better medical approaches to prevent a person’s immune system from rejecting islet cells; this occurs because the islet cells are recognized as foreign tissue and the immune system can start to attack them.
In clinical trials, City of Hope is using one strategy, which research suggests will result in better islet cell function in transplanted patients, that is intended to do more than deplete “disease-causing immune cells,” or the immune cells that attack the pancreas and kill insulin-producing cells. It also is intended to spare regulatory T cells, a class of immune cells that can prevent the body’s attack on insulin-producing cells.
Jenkins also recounted on the live call-in show her struggles with type 1 diabetes and how transplantation changed her life. She was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 18, and several years later, started to experience hypoglycemic unawareness, in which a person no longer feels the symptoms of low blood sugar.
Dizziness, lightheadedness and shakiness usually signal to a diabetic that their blood sugar has dipped. Without these symptoms, Jenkins found herself unexpectedly passing out.
“I went into a coma several times,” Jenkins said. “That is when I decided something needs to happen. I was fortunate to have a doctor familiar with the islet transplant program at City of Hope.”
Jenkins received islet cells from a donor pancreas three times; those cells spurred her body to produce insulin-producing islet cells of her own. She was able to stop taking insulin after the procedures more than eight years ago.
“I still check my blood sugar, I still eat right, and I still exercise but the fear of ... falling into a coma, having a low blood sugar and not feeling that low blood sugar, that fear is gone ,” Jenkins, 43, said. 
The transplant also made it possible for Jenkins to have a baby. Seven years after receiving the transplants, Jenkins became pregnant and remained on an altered regimen of immunosuppressants, which are prescribed to prevent islet graft rejection and promote immune tolerance; doctors monitored her closely throughout the pregnancy.
Her daughter, Charlie Hooper, is now 19-months-old. Jenkins was the first islet cell patient in the United States, and only the second in the world, to have had a successful pregnancy post-transplant.
“I have to say to anyone, anything is possible,” Jenkins said. “Try and take the best care of yourself that you can and have hope because I have a beautiful baby girl that I am so fortunate and so blessed to have.”
The full interview is available by subscription-only on Sirius XM radio.

Sign up to receive the latest updates on City of Hope news, medical breakthroughs, and prevention tips straight to your email inbox!

Back To Top

Search Blogs

/* */