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Type 1 diabetes: A new treatment may offer freedom from insulin

A woman looks into a microscope

July 17, 2023—The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a cell therapy called Lantidra for adults with type 1 diabetes. It's a new type of treatment for people who frequently have low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) despite efforts to manage them. And it may eliminate or reduce the need to use insulin.

How islet cellular therapy works

People with type 1 diabetes don't produce enough insulin, a hormone that helps the body convert blood sugar to energy. Insulin is produced by beta cells in the pancreas. But in people with this type of diabetes, those beta cells are destroyed by the immune system.

The new treatment transplants islets, groups of cells that contain beta cells, to the pancreas of a person with diabetes—allowing them to produce their own insulin again.

In clinical trials, the treatment helped 90% of participants reach their target blood-sugar levels during the first year. And about two-thirds didn't need to inject insulin for up to a year after the infusion. But both those numbers decreased over time, and some participants needed repeat infusions.

Risks of islet cell therapy

Like all treatments, islet therapy comes with risks. Common side effects from the infusion include:

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Anemia.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Fatigue.
  • Nausea.

The transplanted cells may not work effectively for everyone. Or the recipient's immune system may destroy them over time. People who receive islet cell therapy need to take medicines that suppress their immune system to help prevent or delay that immune response. These medications help prevent the body from rejecting the transplanted cells. But they come with serious risks, such as increased rates of infection and high blood pressure.

Researchers are working to improve the effectiveness and availability of this type of therapy. If you have questions about whether islet cell therapy could help you, talk to your doctor. And check out our Diabetes topic center to find more ways to manage your blood sugar.

Sources

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "What Is Type 1 Diabetes?" https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/what-is-type-1-diabetes.html.
  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "Pancreatic Islet Transplantation." https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/insulin-medicines-treatments/pancreatic-islet-transplantation.
  • UpToDate. "Pancreas and Islet Transplantation in Diabetes Mellitus." https://www.uptodate.com/contents/pancreas-and-islet-transplantation-in-diabetes-mellitus/print.
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "FDA Approves First Cellular Therapy to Treat Patients With Type 1 Diabetes." https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-first-cellular-therapy-treat-patients-type-1-diabetes.
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