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World-first in animal-to-human transplantation

A world-first type 1 diabetes treatment using insulin-producing cells grown in pigs has been approved for sale in Russia. Professor Bob Elliott, an Australian working in New Zealand, said two hospitals in Russia may provide the new treatment next year.
Initially, the therapy would cost about A$150,000 per patient, but Elliott says “that will go down as we get an economy of scale”, and that the treatment “makes a huge difference” to dealing with the condition. Type 1 diabetes is a genetic condition where the pancreas stops producing insulin, requiring a person to inject it many times a day while closely watching their blood glucose levels with periodic finger-prick tests.
Prof Elliott’s groundbreaking Diabecell treatment, from Living Cell Technologies Ltd, is the first xenotransplantation (animal to human) treatment in the world to be approved for sale by a major industrialised nation. It takes insulin-producing cells from a special breed of pig and encases them, so they can be transplanted into humans without the need of immunosuppressant drugs.
Two patients who took part in a clinical trial were able to stop injecting insulin for six months. "This is not a cure for type 1 diabetes, but it will make it easier to control," Prof Elliott says. Some diabetics develop hypoglycaemia unawareness, a condition that causes many diabetes-related deaths as blood glucose can plummet rapidly and go undetected until a person becomes unconscious. The treatment rules out this risk. “Their diabetes becomes easier to control with fewer highs (in blood glucose), fewer lows, and if they have unaware hypoglycaemia we can pretty much guarantee to get rid of that. It makes a huge difference to their lives." ~ Sydney Morning Herald, Dec 15

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