Curing Diabetes

FRESNO, Calif.

It's Trahnel Mays's job to make sure everything is set and ready to go for surgery.

"I see people all the time getting kidneys and pancreases," Trahnel Mays, who suffers from diabetes, told Ivanhoe.

She's a transplant tech and ironically she is one of the first people in the United States to receive an islet cell transplant to cure her type-one diabetes.

"I can't imagine not wearing an insulin pump. I can't grasp that fully," Trahnel said.

The 43-year-old has been dealing with diabetes since she was 13.

"I feel like I've been dealing with this all my life," Trahnel said.

Before her insulin pump, Trahnel was giving herself five shots a day. Ohio State University transplant surgeon Amer Rajab sees the sickest of the sick. Their only option is a pancreas transplant.

"The patient doesn't need the whole pancreas, only the cells, only the islet," Amer Rajab, M.D, Ph.D. from the Ohio State University Medical Center, explained."Only these cells, they constitute only two to five percent of the whole pancreas."

Trahnel is part of new research that is transplanting only the insulin-making islet cells. During a nine-hour process, surgeons dissect a donor pancreas, separate, purify and test the islet cells. Then, through an IV, not an operation, the cells are transplanted.

"We inject them into the liver, not the pancreas." Dr. Rajab said.

The patient still needs to take anti-rejection medicine. Success is measured if the patients can stop taking insulin altogether. So far, the success rate is 65-percent compared to 80-percent for a full pancreas transplant. Eight weeks after Trahnel's transplant, she's down from 70 units ofinsulin a day to 20, and she is set to go in for a second islet cell transplant.

"Maybe we can find something when a kid is diagnosed, we can wipe it away. I'm all for it," Trahnel said.

A cure for her could be a cure for millions. The total cost of the transplant is about 50-thousand dollars, but because it's an experimental treatment, the hospitals taking part in the research will pick up the tab. If the islet cell transplant fails, patients can opt to get a full pancreas transplant. The future for the islet cell transplant is for surgeons to use cells from a pig or even create their own islet cells in the lab.

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marsha Hitchcock at mhitchcock@ivanhoe.com.

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