Clinical Trial: Seaweed Extract May Boost Insulin Production

Mary Kate Cary Health Guide
  • News came recently that scientists in Australia have performed a human clinical trial that may bring hope for people with diabetes, especially children.

    A new seaweed extract is being used as a coating to encapsulate insulin-producing islet cells that have come from an organ donor. The seaweed capsules have tiny holes which protect the islet cells from the immune system, yet are large enough to allow the entry of nutrients and oxygen. The seaweed-encapsulated cells are then transplanted into the abdomen of a person with diabetes in an effort to restore insulin production.

    In this case, the islet cells were transplanted into the abdomen of an Australian woman who is the grandmother of three and who has had diabetes for 40 years, since she was 11 years old. She was given approximately 200,000 cells in 75,000 capsules, all from one organ donor.
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    In theory, the capsules eliminate the need for immuno-suppressant drugs, which are used to protect the islet cells from the immune response but which can carry deadly side effects. As a result, islet cell transplants are not now given to children because of the immuno-suppressant drugs. This may mean the beginning of islet cell transplants to children.

    However, there is a risk of what doctors call “a major inflammatory response” due to cytokines, the cells which are involved in allergic inflammation. These cells may be small enough to penetrate the seaweed extract, but no one knows for sure. So instead of immuno-suppressant drugs, the woman was given a mild anti-inflammatory with her injection of islet cells. The worse thing that could happen to her is that the islet cells would get killed off by the cytokines, and the woman would be back where she started from – getting four shots a day of insulin.

    Let’s keep our fingers crossed that she comes off of insulin over the next few days – and stays off.

Published On: March 02, 2006