Diabetes mellitus. the journey ahead with islet cell transplant


By Abanobi Nkachukwu .N

Caused by a seemingly non-reversible pathological alteration in the pancreas, diabetes affects the body’s ability to produce/utilize insulin, and if poorly regulated, leads to life-threatening, long term organ/systems complications, which may require a transplant overtime.

In 2019, there were an estimated 463 million Diabetes Mellitus (DM) cases globally, and this value is expected to increase to 578 million by 2030 (IDF, 2019). Additionally, approximately 15.9 million adults are living with DM in Africa, with a prevalence of 3.1% (Kibirige et al., 2021).

Pancreatic islet transplantation involves transplanting pancreatic beta cells from a deceased organ donor, to a recipient (mostly type I cases, who don’t experience hypoglycemia). With a success rate of about 70%, and an insulin independence of 25%-50% in post-transplant recipients (after more than 5 years), (Jin & Kwang-Won, 2017), this procedure seems to be quite beneficial.

Though studies have proven the effectiveness of islet transplant in improving the quality of life of type I diabetics, there exist less studies for type II diabetics and, considering the scarcity of harvestable cells and costs involved, “if there was a new source for beta cells, it would mean that, islet cell transplantation has real potential to become a viable treatment for type 2 diabetes” said Dr Gordon Weir (Weir & O’Meara, 2014).

Comparing the possible side effects of the procedure (e.g. blood clots, chance of the transplanted islets not working) to its benefits (less or no need for insulin injections etc), what are your thoughts on the future of islets transplants for type II diabetics?