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New drug could free diabetics from insulin
Transplants of islets also used in study of monkeys

MIAMI (AP) -- Researchers say a new drug used in combination with transplants of insulin-producing cells could eventually free diabetics from their daily regimen of injections and blood tests.

The drug -- anti-CD154 -- enabled six diabetic monkeys to stop insulin therapy when used together with transplants of cells called islets, University of Miami scientists said Wednesday."This is the most exciting development I've seen in a long time," said Dr. Norma Kenyon, the study's lead author. But she cautioned: "As the mother of a daughter with diabetes, I don't want to raise false hopes."

The study is to be reported this year by the National Academy of Sciences, which made it available ahead of publication.

The monkeys took monthly injections of anti-CD154 following islet-cell transplants and did not develop the infections common to other anti-rejection drugs, which work by suppressing the immune system.

Islet cells produce insulin in the pancreas gland, and insulin controls blood-sugar levels. The cells' function improved each month the monkeys received anti-CD154.

Three of the animals that have lived for a year since the transplants no longer require the drug or insulin. The other three will be taken off anti-CD154 when they reach the one-year mark.

Experimental human trials are expected to begin soon, said the drug's manufacturer, Biogen Inc.

Researchers don't know how much anti-CD154 treatment would cost. Dr. Camillo Ricordi, a co-author of the study, said diabetes treatment now commands one-seventh of all national health care spending, so the impact could be significant.

It would also be life-changing for patients like Kenyon's 6-year-old daughter, who the doctor said needs constant attention through the night and regular insulin injections.

Even if anti-CD154 lives up to its promise, there will be other problems to overcome. About 5,000 pancreases are available annually to provide the insulin-producing cells required for transplant, and there are millions of diabetics who would need them, Ricordi said.