Type 1 diabetes, which affects 1.25 million American children and adults, and more than 20 million people around the world, is a challenging chronic disease caused by the body’s inability to make insulin. Among its most severe forms is brittle diabetes. People with brittle diabetes frequently experience large swings in blood sugar that can quickly move from too high to too low or vice versa. Severely low blood sugar, called hypoglycemia, can cause sudden and unexpected seizures, coma, heart attacks, and even death. Insulin is the main treatment for this common disease. But it isn’t a cure. A type of cell transplant that comes close to a cure for some people with type 1 diabetes, a technique pioneered and tested in the United States, is now available in many countries but is still deemed an experimental procedure in the U.S., making it almost impossible to get. More than a decade ago, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service approved islet cell transplantation for type 1 diabetes — an approval based on an extensive review of the evidence generated by clinical trials conducted in the United States. Our federal dollars supported that research, and this treatment ought to be available to U.S. citizens. Islet cell transplantation is not a panacea for all forms of type 1 diabetes. And transplantation of any organ, including islet cells, requires the use of anti-rejection drugs that can have a range of adverse side effects. Nevertheless, individuals with severe brittle diabetes who are fully informed of the risks and benefits should have the ability to access this lifesaving treatment option. We fully understand the FDA’s efforts to rein in companies marketing unapproved stem cell products that have little or no evidence to support their use and that may put patients at risk. Yet the FDA should stay equally focused on its commitment to approving evidence-based transformative treatments for devastating diseases and conditions, including brittle diabetes.
To cite this article
Transplanting islet cells can fix brittle diabetes. Why isn’t it available in the U.S.?
Submission date: 01 Oct 2019
Revised on: 08 Oct 2019
Accepted on: 24 Oct 2019
Published online: 24 Oct 2019
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