UK patients with type 1 diabetes have been offered a new ray of hope after the government gave the green light yesterday for a revolutionary transplant treatment at specialist centres across the country.

The transplant procedure, discovered through research funded by Diabetes UK, basically involves the injection of pancreatic cells from a donor to stimulate the production of insulin, and takes just 45 minutes to complete.

Patients undergoing the treatment will have to take immunosuppressant drugs to suppress the body’s immune response to these ‘foreign’ cells, but will no longer need to take daily injections of insulin to control their disease, and should be free of the risk of dangerous blood sugar lows.

The Department of Health is stumping up £2.34 million in the first year and a maximum of £7.32 million thereafter to enable six centres in the UK - Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Royal Free Hampstead, Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals, Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospitals, North Bristol, Central Manchester and Manchester Children's NHS Trusts - to offer the procedure to patients at greatest risk from blackouts and hospital admissions associated with hypoglycaemia.

80 transplants a year
Around 12 patients in England have already been given such transplants to date under funding from charities, but with the government’s new cash it is expected that, in the first twelve months from April 1, around 20 transplants will take place, and that this will expand to around 80 in subsequent years to meet the annual demand.

Commenting on the programme, health minister Ann Keen said it will “ensure that people who have been unable to treat hypoglycaemia with conventional therapies will benefit from significant improvements to their quality of life”, while Diabetes UK chief executive Douglas Smallwood added: “The decision to fund this programme will be life-changing for some people”.

Furthermore, it is hoped that resolving the worst cases of hypoglycaemia will also help to reduce some of the burden on the NHS, given that “hypoglycaemic attacks cost £15 million a year in hospitalisations and ambulances alone,” as Smallwood pointed out.