Surgery ‘to cure’ diabetes is an Edinburgh first

Bruce Tulloh
Bruce Tulloh
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A GROUND-BREAKING operation that can “cure” diabetes has been performed for the first time in Scotland by surgeons in Edinburgh.

An endobarrier, an ultra-thin plastic tube, has been fitted inside the upper intestine of a city man at the private Murrayfield Hospital.

The £8000 operation sees the sophisticated cling film-like material put down the patient’s throat before it coats the organ, creating a barrier which means 24 inches of intestine will not come into contact with food.

That changes hormonal signals as food does not touch intestinal chemical receptors, which boosts the amount of insulin created by the pancreas.

Although a treatment for Type Two diabetes, it also causes the patient to lose weight, giving an added health benefit, particularly to diabetics.

The tube stays in place for a year and can mean diabetics reduce or eliminate medication. After the endobarrier is removed, the benefits can remain for several years.

Bruce Tulloh, lead surgeon for the team that carried out the operation, said he believed the reduction in medication and delayed onset of complications could mean the operation would prove cheaper than traditional treatments in the long-term.

He said: “Some people just never really get control of their blood sugar through medication. They start on one tablet and it goes up to two or three and they end up on insulin.

“People struggling with medication and weight gain can end up with a gastric band, which works very well, but it’s major surgery. This is much less invasive and almost as effective. We’re very excited about it.”

Complications can include food becoming stuck as a result of the tube. In those cases it can usually be removed by an endoscopy, but surgery may be required.

The patient, who wants to remain anonymous and has become one of just 500 people in the world to have the procedure, said: “I’m really excited. I think it’s great to be the first person in Scotland to have it.”

Mr Tulloh said a business case would be put to the NHS, which could see the operation offered by the health service, a step which could have major ramifications given Scotland, and Lothian’s, soaring levels of the condition.

Dr David Farquharson, NHS Lothian’s medical director, said they have “no plans to introduce this procedure, but constantly considers new clinical evidence whenever it becomes available”.