For most patients with type I diabetes, insulin therapy and glucose monitoring are sufficient to maintain glycemic control. However, hypoglycemia is a potentially lethal side effect of insulin treatment in patients who are glycemically labile or have hypoglycemia-associated autonomic failure . For those patients, an alternative therapy is beta cell replacement via pancreas or islet transplantation. Pancreas transplants using cadaveric donor organs reduce insulin dependence but carry risks involved in major surgery and chronic immunosuppression. Islet transplantation, in which islets are isolated from donor pancreases and intravenously infused, require no surgery and can utilize islets isolated from pancreases unsuitable for whole organ transplantation. However, islet transplantation also requires immunosuppression, and standard steroid regimens may be toxic to beta cells . The 2000 Edmonton Trial demonstrated the first long-term successful islet transplantation by using a glucocorticoid-free immunosuppressive regimen (sirolimus and tacrolimus). The Clinical Islet Transplantation (CIT) Consortium seeks to improve upon the Edmonton Protocol by using anti-thymocyte globulin (ATG) and TNFα antagonist (etanercept). The trials currently in progress, in addition to research efforts to find new sources of islet cells, reflect enormous potential for islet transplantation in treatment of type I diabetes.
Keywords: cell therapy; diabetes; immunosuppression; islet transplantation; pancreas.