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Unique transplant leaves patients diabetes-free

It's been 10 years since two Emory patients, Rob Allen and Laura Cochran. entered into a clinical trial for their Type 1 diabetes and experienced exceptional outcomes. In March 2014, the Emory Transplant Center celebrated their 10-year anniversary of being diabetes-free, thanks to a unique transplant of donor pancreatic islet cells.

Pancreatic islet cells are tiny clusters of cells scattered throughout the pancreas that produce the hormone, insulin. In patients who have Type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease, the pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. Therefore, Type 1 diabetics must take insulin every day to live.

Both Allen and Cochran were candidates for a clinical trial at Emory where donor pancreatic islet cells were transplanted to restore insulin production in people with Type 1 diabetes.

"Through a small incision in the abdomen, we placed an IV into the vein going to the liver," says Christian Larsen, MD, DPhil, professor of surgery in the Division of Transplantation at Emory, and dean of Emory University School of Medicine. "Then using a slow-drip method, we infused hundreds of thousands of donor islet cells into the patient. Those islets made their way from the liver to the pancreas to restore insulin production."

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