islamabad - Lonely and isolated people may face a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, researchers report.

Social isolation raised that risk by about 30 percent, exerting the same level of influence on heart health as risk factors such as anxiety and job stress, the British review found.

“Addressing loneliness and social isolation could have an important role in the prevention of two of the leading causes of ill health and mortality worldwide,” said lead researcher Nicole Valtorta, a research fellow in the department of health sciences at the University of York.

“We take risk factors like obesity and physical inactivity for granted, whereas we do not yet with social isolation and loneliness,” she said. “The data from our study support us taking it seriously.”

But this analysis could not prove that loneliness and social isolation caused heart problems or strokes, only that an association existed, she added.

“However, if we put the study findings into context, what we found is comparable in size to the effect of other psychosocial risk factors such as anxiety and job strain. Efforts to prevent heart disease and stroke could benefit from taking social isolation and loneliness into account,” Valtorta said.

For the study, Valtorta and her colleagues analyzed data from 23 previously published studies that, in total, included over 180,000 adults, more than 4,600 of whom had heart attacks, angina or died and more than 3,000 who had suffered strokes.

The pooled data showed that loneliness and social isolation were associated with a 29 percent increased risk of heart attack or angina attack and a 32 percent increased risk of stroke.

Loneliness has been linked in past research to a weakened immune system, high blood pressure and premature death, the researchers explained.

These findings suggest that loneliness and social isolation need to be taken seriously across the spectrum of medicine from medical education to guidelines and health care, said Julianne Holt-Lunstad. An associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University, she co-authored an accompanying journal editorial.

Pancreatic cell transplantation: a breakthrough for type 1 diabetes?

The results of a phase 3 clinical trial are being hailed as a “breakthrough” in the treatment of type 1 diabetes, after finding that transplantation of islet cells - clusters of cells in the pancreas that contain insulin-producing cells - prevented potentially life-threatening reductions in blood sugar among patients with the disease.

The study suggests islet transplantation is effective for people with type 1 diabetes who have severely low blood glucose levels.

Study co-author Dr Xunrong Luo, associate professor of medicine and surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, IL, says the findings show that islet cell transplantation is a viable treatment option for type 1 diabetes patients who have severely low blood glucose levels, or hypoglycemia.

What is more, the team says the findings suggest islet cell transplantation could eliminate the need for lifelong insulin therapy for people with type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes accounts for around 5% of all diabetes cases in the US. It occurs when beta cells within the islets of the pancreas are unable to produce insulin - the hormone that regulates blood glucose levels by promoting transportation of glucose from the bloodstream to other cells, where it is used for energy.

Individuals with type 1 diabetes require lifelong treatment with insulin, either through multiple daily injections with an insulin pen, syringes or an insulin pump, which helps regulate blood glucose.

However, even with treatment, some people with type 1 diabetes continue to experience fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

Hypoglycemia occurs when blood sugar drops to abnormally low levels, normally below 70 mg/dL. Early warning signs of hypoglycemia include shakiness, sweating, confusion, blurred/impaired vision and fatigue.

However, some people may experience no warning signs at all - a condition known as hypoglycemia unawareness. Such individuals are more likely to develop severe complications as a result of hypoglycemia, including seizures, coma and death.

“Even with the best care, about 30% of people with type 1 diabetes aren’t aware of dangerous drops in blood glucose levels,” notes Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers, director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), which helped fund the new study.

While continuous glucose monitoring systems or behavioral therapies can prevent such complications for some type 1 diabetes patients who experience severe hypoglycemia, not all of them benefit.

This highlights the need for alternative treatments, and Dr. Luo and colleagues believe they have identified one: islet cell transplantation.

For their study, the researchers enrolled 48 patients with type 1 diabetes who, despite receiving care from a diabetes expert or endocrinologist, had continuous hypoglycemia awareness and often experienced complications as a result.

All patients underwent at least one transplantation of islet cells. This involves implanting healthy pancreatic islet cells from a deceased donor into the recipient.

The transplantation procedure is minimally invasive; the donor islet cells are purified, processed and infused into the portal vein of the recipient - the vessel that transports blood from the intestine to the liver - through a small catheter that is inserted into the recipient’s abdomen.

Once transplantation is complete, the beta cells within the implanted islet cells begin to produce insulin soon after. However, it takes longer for the new islet cells to become fully functional. Until then, patients will need to continue insulin therapy for blood glucose control.

In this study, subjects who were still taking insulin 75 days after initial transplantation underwent a second transplantation. A second transplant was required for 25 participants, while one subject underwent three transplantations.

The blood glucose levels, hypoglycemic awareness and incidence of severe hypoglycemic events among participants were assessed 1 and 2 years after transplantation.

After 1 year, the researchers found that 88% of the participants had near-normal glucose levels, their hypoglycemic awareness had been restored and they had experienced no severe hypoglycemic events. These results persisted for 71% of the participants 2 years after transplantation.