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New Nationally Funded Centre for islet transplantation

Posted: 08th April 2014

In the last 6 years, through the successful islet transplant program, St Vincent’s Hospital in collaboration with St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research (SVI) has come to the fore in Australia as one of the leading centres for the treatment of type 1 diabetes.

The Hospital and SVI, alongside NSW’s Westmead Hospital and SA’s Royal Adelaide Hospital have been selected to host a new Nationally Funded Centre for the transplantation of insulin-producing islet cells to treat type 1 diabetes. The program delivers hope to people with unstable type 1 diabetes causing life-threatening hypoglycaemia (very low blood glucose) that cannot be corrected with insulin.

Type 1 diabetes is a complex condition that, if not adequately managed, can lead to death. Islet cell transplantation is extremely specialised and complex procedure and only a few hospitals world-wide can provide this type of treatment.

The new Centre makes islet transplantation for people with type 1 diabetes an integrated part of Australia’s health system, and showcases the power of cooperation between states to provide best care for people with unstable type 1 diabetes.

Islet transplantation is a procedure in which insulin-producing islets are extracted from deceased organ donors and transplanted into a recipient’s liver, where they produce insulin and, in the best-case scenario, cause the recipient to become independent of the need to inject insulin. Even those who do not become insulin-independent have their hypoglycaemia corrected because of the improved control provided by the insulin made by the transplant.

The decision to establish this new Nationally Funded Centre in Victoria brings with it more than $1 million in recurrent funding every year. The funding for Victoria is almost half of the total funding that is being allocated for islet cell transplantation nationally.

The program was initially funded by a $5 million donation from philanthropist Susan Alberti and in 2006 the Australian Department of Health and Ageing partnered with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and granted $30 million for five years.

Leader of Victoria’s program and Director of SVI, Professor Tom Kay is pleased that patients in Australia will continue to have access to the program.

“We are very excited that the Islet Transplant Program has been granted Nationally Funded Centre funding and that the Consortium will continue to provide a highly collaborative national approach. Our aim is to ensure that Victoria has the capacity to provide high quality, effective, and safe islet transplantation at the most affordable cost,” he said.

“Since its inception, the transplant program has made a real difference to those suffering with type 1 diabetes and their families. In this time, the Consortium has done a total of 41 transplants in 20 patients, seven of these being done at St Vincent’s Hospital. Of these patients 10 achieved insulin independence with four of these from Victoria.”

For more information please see: Immunology