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What can be done to prevent immune rejection of islet cells?

In order to prevent immune rejection of islet cells, some scientists surround the cells in a protective membrane before transplanting them. Other scientists are trying to change the cells before transplanting them to trick the immune system into thinking they are part of the body. Sometimes the islet cells are exposed to cold temperatures or ultraviolet light, so that the cells of the immune system cannot recognize the foreign antigens on the surface of the transplanted cells. Another method is to transplant the islet cells directly into the thymus, a gland in the neck, where some immune system cells grow and learn to tell the difference between self and nonself. If exposed to transplanted cells as they mature, immune system cells might think the transplants are part of the body.
A combination of immunosuppressive drugs, or anti-rejection drugs, is given to keep the immune system from rejecting transplanted islet cells. The combination of medicines is part of what's referred to as The Edmonton Protocol. Doctors in that Canadian city found a way to remove the islets from a donor pancreas using special enzymes and then implant those islet cells into another person’s liver through a catheter. It is a short procedure that may require only local anesthetic.
 
Transplantation of islet cells -- instead of the whole pancreas -- is seen as a possible cure for type 1 diabetes. It’s the beta cells within the islet cells that make insulin. Researchers continue to seek more effective ways of preventing the immune system from rejecting the transplanted cells. One study is looking at whether a special coating on the cells can prevent rejection.

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