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News 11 March 2016

Scottish transplant programme reaches major milestone

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Diabetes patients in Scotland have paid tribute to the organ donors who have helped cure them of a life threatening complication of the condition.

The Scottish National Pancreatic Islet Transplant Programme reached a major milestone recently when the 50th transplant took place since it was launched five years ago.

Helen Redmond and Susan Dawson are two of the 50 patients to benefit from the treatment, which relies on individuals and families making the selfless decision to donate organs after death.

The process involves islets extracted from a deceased donor's pancreas being injected into the liver of patients with the disease. The procedure has shown to be an effective treatment for patients with type one diabetes who also have problems recognising when their blood sugar becomes dangerously low resulting in confusion, seizures and coma. Thanks to organ donors, all of these patients are now able to recognise when their blood sugar level drops, with some patients no longer requiring insulin injections at all.

Maureen Watt, Minister for Public Health, said: 'A severe hypoglycaemic attack can be extremely distressing both for the person experiencing it, and their friends and family. This pioneering project is breaking new ground, and making a real difference to people's lives. We should also not forget that none of this would be possible without the people who made the decision to sign up to the organ donation register, and their families who agreed to the donation. This is yet another example of the phenomenal contribution that organ donors make to our health service.'

This pioneering project is breaking new ground, Maureen Watt, Minister for Public Health

Helen Redmond, from Bathgate, was the 50th islet cell transplant patient within the programme. The software buyer, who recently turned 50, was diagnosed with type one diabetes when she was 26 and was not able to recognise when her blood sugar levels would drop and she would have a severe hypoglycaemic attack. The mother-of-one said she has noticed a dramatic improvement in the few weeks since the transplant was carried out.

She said: 'The worst thing about my attacks was I never knew when I was going to have one and they were getting progressively worse. It made life, especially at work, very difficult because it would always be at the back of my mind that it could happen at any time. In the few weeks since I had the transplant, I have noticed a huge difference and my blood sugar levels have evened out.

'I am incredibly grateful to have received the transplant and to all the very efficient, very kind people in the transplant clinic and on the wards.'

 

In the few weeks since I had the transplant, I have noticed a huge difference. Helen Redmond, Bathgate

Susan Dawson, 53, was diagnosed with type one diabetes when she was four years old and has had complications with severe hypoglycaemic attacks for many years. Susan, from St Andrews, has received two islet transplants at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, and is now free of dangerous attacks.

She said: 'I didn't think my life would change that much but the difference has been huge. I now have my driving licence back and am able to get on with everyday jobs like cutting the grass without the constant fear of having a hypo.

'The main difference has been to my husband and family. Every time my husband was away from home, he would make sure someone was around to pop in every couple of hours to check I hadn't had a hypo. My friends and family can all go away now and do their own thing without having to worry about me. It has made such a difference to them.

'I'm now training for the Edinburgh Marathon. I have completed a marathon before but when I was training, I would need to take a picnic out with me and make regular stops. Now I can go out for a training run and not need to stop.'

I didn't think my life would change that much, but the difference has been huge. Susan Dawson, St Andrews

Mr John Casey, Clinical Lead for the Scottish Islet Transplant programme, said: 'It is very gratifying to see the impact that this new treatment has had on so many of our patients and their families in Scotland. This therapy relies on deceased donor organs being available to extract the cells and we are very grateful to the donors and their families for agreeing to organ donation.'

The Scottish National Pancreatic Islet Transplant Programme is a collaboration between the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and The Multi Organ Transplant Unit at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. The process involves the complex preparation of islets extracted from a deceased donor's pancreas at SNBTS's Islet isolation Laboratory in Liberton, Edinburgh. The resulting islet infusions are injected into patients at the Transplant Unit at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. The first transplant took place on 17th February 2011.

Dr Shareen Forbes, Lead Physician for the programme, added: 'This treatment has improved the quality of life for our patients and for their friends and family supporting them. The results from our programme over the last five years confirm that this is a highly effective therapy in reducing the frequency of hypoglycaemia.'

Lora Irvine, Islet Cell Laboratory Manager for SNBTS, added: "We are immensely proud of the work we carry out within the Islet Cell Laboratory and the contribution the programme makes to the quality of life of patients in Scotland.'

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