There are over 422 million people in the world living with diabetes, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States alone, about 1.25 million are dealing with type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent) rather than type 2 diabetes (non-insulin-dependent).
For those living with HIV, diabetes is known to develop much sooner. In fact, HIV-positive people are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes at a younger age, even if they aren’t obese — so much so that 1 in 10 HIV-positive people also have diabetes.
While there is no understanding as to the cause of type 1 diabetes, treatment usually involves a person giving themselves daily insulin injections. But thanks to researchers from the University of Mimi Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine in Florida, that might end.
Researchers explained in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that clinical trials are showing promise in treating type 1 diabetes by placing implants inside the omentum, which will then seep appropriate amounts of insulin.
Let’s talk about the omentum.
The omentum is a tissue covering the organs inside our abdomen. Because it has a dense vascularized surface, drains nicely into the portal system, and is “easily accessible,” according to researchers, it makes the perfect home for a pancreatic islet cell implant. As a result, researchers were able to restore euglycemia and eliminate severe hypoglycemia.
As described in the study, when researchers used donor pancreatic islets, which are endocrine cell clusters found throughout the pancreas, in combination with a person’s own blood plasma, it is possible for implants to be placed safely inside the omentum without drastic side effects.
As a result, the implant turns the omentum into an “mini-pancreas” — one that produces insulin automatically.
After 17 days, participants who were implanted during clinical trials were slowly taken off their regular dose of insulin. Unsurprisingly, their glucose levels started to improve.
Fair warning, however:
Even though the results look promising, and the dream of freeing people from daily insulin injections is getting closer, researchers say it’s going to take time before knowing whether this is an appropriate form of long-term treatment.
"The results thus far have shown that the omentum appears to be a viable site for islet implantation using this new platform technique," lead author of the study, David Baidal, said to Endgadget. "Data from our study and long-term follow up of additional omental islet transplants will determine the safety and feasibility of this strategy of islet transplantation, but we are quite excited about what we are seeing now."