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Government to fund islet cell transplants

A treatment, developed thanks to Diabetes UK-funded research, that offers hope for some people with Type 1 diabetes who suffer from the most serious effects of hypoglycaemia will be made available on the NHS.

The announcement was made today by Health Minister Ann Keen.

To date, Diabetes UK has funded 12 islet cell transplantations for people with Type 1 diabetes who have lost their hypo awareness. Their everyday lives had become immensely difficult as they never knew when a hypoglycaemic attack might happen.

Life-changing treatment

Islet cell transplantation has changed these people’s lives. Their bodies have started to produce their own insulin, dramatically reducing the chance of them having a hypo. Over the next few years, this treatment will become available in six centres across the UK, offering hope for around 80 people a year.

Groundbreaking work

Douglas Smallwood, chief executive of leading health charity Diabetes UK, said: “We are delighted that Diabetes UK-funded research has proved to the Government what huge immediate and long-term potential islet cell transplantation has. We look forward to seeing this groundbreaking work become available to more people with Type 1 diabetes who are in desperate need of help.

“The Department of Health’s decision to fund this programme will be life changing for some people with Type 1 diabetes who suffer from the most serious effects of hypoglycaemia. Resolving the worst cases could also save the NHS a significant amount of money, as hypoglycaemic attacks cost £15m a year in hospitalisations and ambulances alone.

“This very important step forward would not have been possible without the collaborative efforts of all the dedicated researchers and doctors involved.” 

Investing millions

The Department of Health will invest up to £2.34 million in islet transplant services in the first year, increasing to a maximum of £7.32 million to meet the predicted annual need in the longer term.

Clinical innovation

Health Minister Ann Keen said: “In developing islet transplants for people who suffer from hypoglycaemia, the NHS is at the forefront of worldwide clinical innovation. This programme will ensure that people who have been unable to treat hypoglycaemia with conventional therapies will benefit from significant improvements to their quality of life.

“These patients are dependent on organ donors for pancreases from which islet cells are transplanted. To ensure that as many people as possible can benefit from this groundbreaking therapy, I am committed to improving donor coordination services as recommended in the recent ‘Organs for Transplants’ report.”

Islets and transplantation

Islets are groups of cells in the pancreas which contain insulin-producing beta cells. In people with Type 1 diabetes the beta cells are destroyed, but islet cell transplantation replaces the islet cells with ones harvested from donor pancreases. The transplanted cells produce insulin which stabilises diabetes and reduces the amount of insulin that needs to be administered.

Transplant programme

In the first year, it is expected that around 20 transplants will take place at the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the Royal Free Hospital, London and King’s College Hospital, London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospitals NHS Trust, North Bristol NHS Trust and Central Manchester and Manchester Children’s NHS Trust. The service will then expand to meet the predicted annual need of approximately 80 transplants in subsequent years.

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