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B.C. woman on new diabetes drug trial after successful transplant

Campbell River’s Cindy McLean is one of 7 currently taking the medication for Type I Diabetes
Cindy McLean (left) and Heather Thomas, her kidney donor. (Photo submitted by Heather Thomas)

Since she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, Cindy McLean’s body’s immune system has been attacking itself, destroying insulin-producing beta cells in her pancreas. Those cells are needed to convert blood sugar into energy.

“The kidney disease didn’t come until about 45 years (after the diagnosis),” says McLean. “As much as you try and control your blood sugars, you can’t do it all the time. It just doesn’t work that way.”

Growing up with Type 1 diabetes, McLean says, was a challenge. Her classmates were always asking why she was allowed to get juice or candy when no one else could. Sometimes this would lead her to hide when her blood sugar was low, causing her to go into a seizure.

Another challenge was the lack of knowledge on diabetes. While medical professionals and scientists know a lot more about diabetes, there is still a lot to learn, like what causes Type 1 diabetes. Leading theories suggest genetic and environmental factors lead to the autoimmune disease.

READ MORE: Trying to function when the kidney doesn’t…

McLean, who was born and raised in Campbell River, started struggling with kidney disease 17 or so years ago and needed a transplant when she started going into renal failure 11 years ago. She didn’t find a donor until last year.

“I’m not sure how long Heather [Thomas] has been in Campbell River, but we’ve kind of always known each other like acquaintances,” she says. “We would run into each other. Of course, she’s a dance instructor, so she was teaching at my granddaughter’s school — who lives with me full time — so we would talk there.”

When McLean started her business, Thomas would come to visit her. At one point, Thomas, whose son also lives with Type 1 diabetes, was adamant she was a match for McLean and continued looking into it. McLean wasn’t so confident Thomas would be match after searching for a kidney donor for ten years, including putting an ad out in the Campbell River Mirror.

“Sure enough, probably six months later she comes into the shop and says “I’m your match,” McLean says.

The transplant was originally supposed to happen in June 2023, but it didn’t work out for either of the two. Thomas called McLean and said the only time they could do it was on July 19.

“I said, ‘You got to be kidding me, that’s my birthday.’” So she said, “Oh my God, do you want to do it on your birthday?” recalls McLean.

Her response? “Hell yeah, we’re going to do it on my birthday.”

She couldn’t have received a better birthday present.

The transplant was a success. McLean still needs to go to Vancouver every three weeks.

“What happened while I was there is the Kidney Research Institute approached me and they said I was the perfect candidate to start this new drug they are trying to get approved. After, listening to their story, I was like this is a no-brainer, so I decided I’m going to do this research, I’m actually on the research team.”

The drug is AT-1501, also known as Tegoprubart. It was originally developed to treat ALS and Alzheimer’s disease. McLean is one of seven people worldwide trialling the drug for Type 1 Diabetes. The trial is only in phase one of three.

While she is in Vancouver, she has to take intravenous medication for the research.

“We still have phase two and phase three to get through, but as it goes now I’m feeling amazing, I’m doing amazing, everything is just going really good,” she says. “I started at eight/nine pills a day. I’m now down to three.”

Before the transplant, McLean had to adhere to a very strict diet, like fruit and vegetables or anything very high in potassium. Now, she can eat and drink almost anything, except grapefruit, green teas and Earl Grey because they interfere with her medication.

“The first thing I had after my transplant was French fries. I haven’t had French fries or potatoes in ten years…They weren’t even the best French fries but they were good.”

About the Author: Brendan Jure

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