Transplanted Pig Cells Help Control Diabetes
By Patricia Reaney
LONDON (Reuters) - A baboon injected with pancreatic pig cells could be the beginning of the end of daily insulin injections for millions suffering from diabetes, scientists said on Friday.
Since researchers at Duke University in North Carolina injected a diabetic baboon called Babs-92 with specially encapsulated insulin-producing cells from pigs nine months ago the primate has not required any insulin to control the disorder.
If Babs continues to do well Dr. Emmanuel Opara and a team of scientists at Duke believe human trials of the technique could begin within two years.
``Once we can replicate the results in clinical trials, I think it could be the end of daily injections,'' Opara, an associate research professor of experimental surgery and cell biology, said in a telephone interview.
Insulin injections are not a cure for diabetes. They help diabetics control their blood sugar levels but the injections do not reduce their risk of developing other serious complications such as kidney failure, heart disease and strokes.
Opara believes the pig cell transplant could be a potential cure for many sufferers of the disease that afflicts an estimated 135 million worldwide, because in addition to providing insulin patients would also receive C-peptide, a precursor form of insulin.
``We know it is very, very helpful in preventing the complications of diabetes,'' Opara, who presented his research at an international transplant meeting in Innsbruck, Austria, explained.
The cells can be injected into the abdomen of humans using minimally invasive surgical techniques, Opara said.
``We do not know how many patients with diabetes would need this therapy, but the baboon data to date is very encouraging,'' he added.
Insulin is a hormone produced by cells in the pancreas which controls blood sugar levels and metabolism. People suffering from Type I diabetes have cells that do not work properly and they need daily insulin injections.
Opara and his team coated the pig cells with a complex carbohydrate known as alginate, which provides a protective sphere, and injected them into the Babs-92's abdominal cavity. Five more baboons have also received pig cells.
The coating acts as a one-way door that allows the insulin out but the baboon's antibodies and immune cells that attack the transplant cannot get in, which eliminates the need for anti-rejection drugs.
Opara said he was not sure how many cells will be needed for a human transplant but be believes the more than 90 million pigs that are used for food production in the United States each year should assure a steady supply.
The technique, if proven effective and safe, could help Type 1 diabetes sufferers and Type 2, or adult onset, diabetics who need injections.