DRI Awarded $4.6M to Take Islet Transplantation to Next Level

Camillo Ricordi, M.D., and collaborators at the Miller School’s Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) have received a $4.6 million grant from two medical research foundations to make islet cell transplantation, an experimental procedure that has improved blood glucose control and the quality of life of some type 1 diabetics, available to more patients.

Ricordi, who is scientific director of the DRI and the UM Cell Transplant Center, and his team received the three-year grant from JDRF, formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to define a new and safer implant site for islet cells, increase the survival and function of the transplanted islets and eliminate the need for life-long systemic immunosuppression drugs.

“This is a critically important and timely support that will allow our team to remain focused on the path to a biologic cure for diabetes,” Ricordi said. “The overall goal is to use a multipronged approach to address and resolve all of the outstanding issues in islet transplantation and move the field to the next level of success.”

Performed at the Diabetes Research Institute since the 1980s, successful islet cell transplants give patients with type 1 diabetes the ability to naturally produce their own insulin, and lead healthier, more independent lives. However, only a subset of patients benefit from the procedure because of problems associated with the need for chronic immunosuppression drugs to assure graft survival, and the low survival rate of islets when transplanted into the currently used transplant site, the liver. In fact, islets are particularly susceptible to hypoxia and inflammation in the immediate post-transplant period.

In their grant proposal, “Development of an Extrahepatic Site for Beta Cell Replacement without Continuous Immunosuppression,” Ricordi and his team propose to address all those issues, first by using the omental pouch, a fold in the lining of the abdominal cavity, as a safer and more easily accessible transplant site.

They also plan to promote islet survival in the early post-transplant period by using bioactive scaffolds, providing the islets a milieu that can be adapted to their demands, and to promote immunoprotection with a novel encapsulation technology.

The DRI’s confidence in achieving these goals is based on encouraging preliminary data, generated through the generous support of the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation, JDRF and the Helmsley Trust, and on the unique assets at the DRI, where scientists with complementary expertise have long worked in concert to address the multidisciplinary challenges that still make islet transplantation an experimental procedure offered only to a small subset of patients.

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