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Auto-Immune Diseases: Type I Diabetes    
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Modern Treatments for Diabetes Type I

There is currently no cure for diabetes, but there are a few available treatments, and a lot of options being researched! Right now, there are two popular types of treatment for patients with Type I Diabetes.  These are insulin replacement therapy and islet cell transplant.

Insulin Replacement Therapy

The majority of individuals that live with Type I Diabetes undergo insulin replacement therapy. This means that everyday, many times a day, they must inject a very specific amount of insulin into their blood streams.  This insulin makes up for what their dead insulin-making cells cannot produce. 

Although many diabetic patients can lead healthy lives with insulin replacement therapy, it is a very painstaking method to treat the disease.  Despite having to constantly monitor blood sugar levels and administer many shots daily, sometimes this treatment is not effective enough.  It is difficult to imitate the very delicate balance of the pancreas.  If the shot contains too little or too much insulin, or a shot is missed, the patient runs the risk of developing further health complications.

Islet Cell Transplant

Instead of constantly supplying the body with insulin, some doctors are bypassing insulin injection in favor of transplanting new islet cells or even a new pancreas into the diabetic patient.  Doing so could potentially replace the insulin-producing islet cells and restore the body’s metabolism of glucose.  Islet cells can be transplanted into the liver, where they are able to produce insulin.  Recent studies show that one year after the operation, 58% of Islet cell transplant patients were insulin independent. But there are many problems with this method. But not only is this a very costly procedure, it often takes two or more donors for a successful transplant, so there is a long waiting list.  Also, the transplanted islet cells can fail to function after a few years. But the biggest risk is that the transplant can be attacked by the immune system—this is called rejection.

Rejection is a risk with all transplants.  Any cells that are transplanted into one person’s body from another person’s are very likely to be attacked by the white blood cells of your immune system.  They recognize the cells as foreign, and so will again destroy the islet cells! To counteract rejection, transplant patients must take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of their lives to allow their new islet cells to function.  Immunosuppressant drugs usually weaken the whole immune system, and so the patient experiences fatigue and sickness, and is likely to develop other health problems.  Sometimes it is better for the diabetic patient to avoid transplants.

So current treatment methods like islet cell transplants and insulin injection both can help the diabetic patient, but they cannot cure the disease.  Scientists are now looking to regenerative medicine for the answers! 

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