Islet cell transplantation is an attractive alternative therapy to conventional insulin treatment or vascularized whole pancreas transplantation for type 1 diabetic patients. It represents a successful example of somatic cell therapy in humans based on complex procedures for islet isolation from whole pancreas. The islets, that are only 1% of the total pancreas tissue, are isolated by two steps method starting with collagenase digestion that operates a rapid dissociation of the stromal component of the gland, while preserving islet anatomical integrity. After digestion, islets are then separated from exocrine tissue by centrifugation in density gradients. Transplantation consists of a simple injection of few milliliter-purified tissue in the portal vein through a percutaneous trans- hepatic approach performed in local anesthesia. Several studies have now demonstrated that islet transplant can replace pancreatic endocrine function without major side effects and with liver viability preservation in selected patients affected by longterm type 1 diabetes. It can restore endogenous insulin secretion, achieve insulin independence in more than 80% of patients, and recover the metabolism of glucose, protein and lipids. Improved control of glycated HbA1c, reduced risk of recurrent hypoglycemia and of diabetic complications are also seen as important benefits of islet cell transplantation, irrespective of the status of insulin independence. Many protocols are now on going for reduction of immunosuppression therapy in recipients, induction of tolerance, and prolongation of graft function.
Keywords: Type 1 diabetes mellitus, brittle diabetes, diabetic complications, islet cell transplantation, engraftment, immunosuppression, autoimmunity, glucotoxicity
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