Islet Transplant, No diabetes for 7 Years

Elizabeth Jenkins, MD, was diagnosed type 1 when she was 18. She is the first recipient of an islet transplant in the US. She produces her own insulin, and has not been a diabetic for seven years.


I talked to my endo about this many years ago, to ask if this was something that he had hope for in the future. He told me that as it currently existed, the need for the immunosuppressants kind of made it impractical / less than desirable.

From the article, it seems like this is still an issue. Not sure if there has been any progress in this area yet:

  • While no longer a diabetes patient, her transplant necessitates the taking of immunosuppressants, which are prescribed to prevent islet graft rejection and promote immune tolerance.

I wonder if we could catch it early enough, that doctors could harvest your own islets before they are gone. Then wait it out with insulin, growing/storing the harvested islets and then putting your own back in when the coast is clear?

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It wouldn’t surprise me if there is some research similar to this going on with all the different attempts at cures. I think the main problem would be that the coast would never be “clear”. My understanding of Type 1 is that it’s not your immune system attacking your beta cells, destroying all of them, and then the autoimmune attack is over. It’s a constant battle between your body attempting to regenerate your beta cells and your immune system simultaneously killing them off continuously. I’ve heard that this may be why some long-term Type 1s continue to produce insulin while others don’t, depending on the virulence of the autoimmune attack. So, in order for the coast to be clear, they would have to figure out a way to stop the autoimmune attack, and I think if they did that, eventually beta cells would regenerate on their own. (I’m not a scientist or a doctor, so someone please correct me if my understanding is incorrect.)

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And Dr. Jenkins likely takes immunosuppressant meds to halt rejection of those islet cells.

Not a reasonable price to pay IMO. Otherwise the queue to get an islet cell transplant would be thousands of miles long…

ETA: Dr. Jenkins is taking immunosuppressants. I’ve seen many a patient on immunosuppressants over the years and only one was not having a significantly miserable time of it.

Dr. Jenkins seems to imply (IMO after reading the linked article) that women with Type 1 stand, at best, a small chance of becoming pregnant, and of having a healthy pregnancy, which I definitely do not see is the case.

I am, however, happy that she appears to have made the right decision for herself personally. :slightly_smiling_face:

Oh, so the immunosuppressants are both to prevent her body from rejecting the transplant and stop it from destroying the beta cells.

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My own doc said he wouldn’t consider this a good option unless the patient required some sort of other organ transplant that would in itself justify immune suppression for the rest of life. He did say he’d had several patients undergo it though… and the article indicates that this particular islet cell transplant program was established in 2002 and She did hers in 2009… so I’m not sure in what sense she was the first and think that might be a misunderstanding

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Sam, maybe she was the first to have the transplant, and then have a baby. I’m just guessing. I have read that birth defects can occur while women are using immunosuppressants.

My doctor said the same like Sam19 said. He wouldn’t consider this or recommend to me at all. I’ve hears about this few years ago, but I wonder if it’s 100% healthy option? do you think it’s no risk at all? How much it will cost if I will decide to do this in private clinic or some other country?

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There are definitely some risks. The transplant may be rejected. There may also be some unpleasant side effects of the anti-rejection drugs that are given after the surgery.

Agree. But I’d upgrade that “may also be” to a “will almost certainly be”.

And add “for the remainder of one’s life” to “after the surgery”.

Just trying to be realistic here. Any pessimism is unintentional.

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I agree. If this was a really great thing, we would see a lot of people lining up for it. I’m one of the fortunate ones who has a T1D for my Endo., and
last time I asked, he said it was way worse to be on immuno-suppressants for the rest of your life, in his opinion. Another thing: which will your insurance pay
for : insulin, test strips, sensors or the anti-rejection pills? Which is more expensive?