Needles away


By Nell Boyce INSULIN injections may soon be a thing of the past. Diabetic monkeys given a transplant of insulin-secreting cells maintained normal blood sugar levels for over a year, thanks to an experimental drug that prevents transplant rejection. Doctors have long dreamt of transplanting healthy insulin-producing islet cells into young patients. This could prevent some of the complications of diabetes, such as blindness and kidney failure. But the immunosuppressive drugs that transplant patients must take have serious drawbacks. Norma Kenyon and her colleagues at the University of Miami School of Medicine in Florida have tried a new approach. They gave six diabetic rhesus monkeys islet cell transplants along with antibodies that block a receptor called CD145 found on the surface of white blood cells. These antibodies disrupt a signalling pathway usually activated when the immune system gets ready to attack foreign tissue. After the transplants, blood sugar levels in all six monkeys returned to normal. Monthly doses of the drug had no adverse side effects, and three monkeys did not need insulin for over a year, even after the researchers stopped giving them the drug, according to a forthcoming report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We will be proceeding in the future with clinical trials,” says Kenyon. It might mean that diabetes can be cured by a 25-minute infusion of islet cells. Her team is also investigating how well the drug works for cross-species transplants, since millions of people have diabetes but spare human pancreas tissue is in short supply. Francis Thomas, an expert on islet cell transplant at the University of Alabama at Birmingham,
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