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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Diabetes surgeries suggest new direction in treatment

    A surgeon at University Medical Center is helping diabetics fight their dependence on insulin through pancreas and islet transplant surgeries.

    “”I consider these transplants a cure for diabetes because it allows the patients to be insulin independent,”” said Dr. Rainer Gruessner, an abdominal transplant surgeon at UMC. “”After the surgery, they will be insulin-independent in one to two days. They can eat, drink or do whatever non-diabetics do.””

    In the next

    After the surgery, they will be insulin independent in one to two days. They can eat, drink or do whatever non-diabetics do.

    -Dr. Rainer Gruessner,
    abdominal transplant surgeon at UMC

    six to 12 months, Gruessner said he hopes to hire an islet surgeon and three other transplant surgeons to continue building the “”small core of committed people”” at UMC.

    “”I want to develop more marketing, so people in the community know that this is an option for them,”” he said.

    Ninety-five percent of pancreas transplant recipients survive the first year, and it is considered a highly “”safe”” procedure, Gruessner said.

    Pancreas transplants prove to be more effective than islet transplants in facilitating long-term insulin independence and are usually paid for entirely by insurance companies, Gruessner said.

    Because the surgery is highly invasive, patients with a high surgical risk are not recommended to undergo it, but can have islet transplants instead.

    Islets are clusters of cells that make insulin, according to the American Diabetes Association Web site. Islet transplants often involve taking cells from a donor and transplanting them to a patient, but they are not as “”well established”” as pancreas transplants and are less effective in the long term, according to the site.

    While islet transplants are less invasive, private insurance companies rarely pay for it, leaving patients to foot the $60,000-100,000 bill, Gruessner said.

    Anna Marie Tellez, an employee at the Tucson branch of Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, said she has been following research on diabetes and has been waiting for a cure, as her 4-year-old daughter has diabetes and uses an insulin pump.

    “”I’ve heard about the transplants and read about them, but I’d have to see more research,”” Tellez said.

    “”Even if our insurance didn’t cover it, I would still look into getting her the surgery because then she wouldn’t have to suffer every day,”” she said.

    There are two types of diabetes, according to the ADA site. Type 1 diabetes is characterized by the body’s inability to produce insulin, a hormone needed to convert glucose into energy. Type 2 diabetes, the more common form of the disease, develops when the body does not produce enough insulin or ignores it.

    Stefani Purcell, a nutritional sciences junior and Type 1 diabetic, said being insulin-independent through a transplant surgery would change her life.

    “”It would be great not to have to worry about it all the time,”” Purcell said. “”I have to always be prepared with food in case my blood sugar gets low, which is hard to do in college. It’s hard to adapt to the lifestyle, so if the procedure was safe, I’d definitely do it.””

    If more transplant patients come to UMC for surgeries, Gruessner said he’d like to see a transplant ward built in the next three to five years.

    “”I don’t want to compete with the existing diabetes center at the (UA) College of Medicine. We would emphasize practical treatment options for diabetics and development of a research program,”” Gruessner said. “”We have to work together to make UMC one of the leading transplant hospitals west of the Mississippi.””

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