Science / Medicine : New Pancreas Helps Diabetics
Diabetics given a new pancreas to eliminate the need for insulin shots may also end up with healthier kidneys, six Minneapolis doctors reported last week in the New England Journal of Medicine. The discovery supports a long-held belief that if diabetics could carefully control their blood-sugar level, they might be able to avoid the kidney failure, blindness and other serious health problems that appear in many longtime sufferers of the disease.
The question of whether those side effects are inevitable when diabetes strikes has been pondered by doctors for years. Researchers have repeatedly tried to mimic the pancreas’s ability to produce insulin by carefully controlling the amount of insulin a diabetic receives, but the results have not been encouraging.
Pancreas transplants have, however, allowed some diabetics to give up their insulin injections. Experiments on rats have found that transplants may prevent or reverse the harmful effects that diabetes has on the eyes, kidneys, nerves and blood vessels.
To see if humans can benefit as well, a team led by Dr. Rudolf W. Bilous of the University of Minnesota Medical School examined 25 diabetics who had received kidney transplants to replace organs damaged by diabetes. Among the dozen volunteers who had also received transplanted pancreases to help produce the insulin they needed, there was no further kidney damage.