JDRF Launches Multimillion-Dollar Center for Islet Transplantation

The need to make islet replacement successful as a viable cure for people with Juvenile Diabetes (also known as Type 1 diabetes) received a boost today with the launch of a new Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Center for Islet Transplantation at Emory University. The grant was announced at a JDRF fundraising gala this evening.

The Center is being funded with a $4.1 million grant over a three-year period and will address an important issue facing islet transplantation: rejection of donor islets by the patient�s immune system. Although islet transplantation from donor pancreases can restore normal insulin production in people with Type 1 diabetes, several problems still exist with current immunosuppressive protocols. The Emory Center will ambitiously explore various initiatives toward the goal of insulin independence for these patients, without long-term immunosuppression.

"The launch of this new Center at Emory underscores JDRF�s determination to keep research on a fast track to find a cure for a disease which affects more than 16 million Americans," said Charles J. Queenan III, Chair of Research for JDRF. "JDRF has been in the forefront worldwide with islet transplantation as one of its priorities. The possibilities are both tantalizing and frustrating but the research must now focus on conquering autoimmunity and tolerance issues."

Renowned researchers at Emory University will explore various interrelated approaches to reduce the requirements for immunosuppressive drugs. They are investigating the use of less toxic drugs than current therapies and also testing whether donor islets transplanted from animals can be protected in a sheath-like membrane from the body�s immune response.

Christian P. Larsen, MD, DPhil, director of the clinical islet transplantation program and co-director of the JDRF Center for Islet Transplantation at Emory University is internationally recognized for his work in devising novel strategies to achieve transplantation tolerance. Collin J. Weber, MD, DMSci, director of the Center, has had a distinguished career that includes 25 years of investigations and contributions to the field of diabetes research. "Significant progress in islet transplantation was made in the Edmonton Protocol in Alberta, Canada, in patients with very severe life-threatening problems with glucose control. However, we realize that wide-scale application of islet transplantation using conventional immunosuppressants is not feasible because of long-term side effects," commented Dr. Weber. "Our goal here is ambitious and exciting and if successful will improve the effectiveness of transplants and create a larger source of donated islets."

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Two of the Center�s projects will focus on using a steroid�free approach with a new class of compounds called �co-stimulation blockers.� One of these compounds has already shown promise to protect kidney transplants from attack by the immune system. In one project, Center investigators will carry out a clinical trial of human islet transplantation using the most promising drug. In the second related project, researchers will perform pre-clinical studies and examine �tolerance induction� to islet grafts using the co-stimulation blockade approach in non-human primates.

Other projects in the Center will focus on the use of microencapsulated pig islets to address the problem of limited availability of human pancreatic tissue. In these studies, investigators will examine the ability of pig islets encapsulated in a protective membrane to correct diabetes in laboratory mice. The researchers will work to optimize the design of the protective membrane to prevent immune attack of the pig islets while maintaining islet function. The technique may also be applied to the transplantation of human islets.

The Emory Transplant Center, part of the Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center and Emory Healthcare, is one of the most comprehensive transplant centers in the Southeast. The Center includes programs in heart, lung, liver, kidney and kidney-pancreas transplants and fosters cutting-edge basic, translational and clinical research to improve the effectiveness of transplantation. The establishment of the first clinical islet cell transplant program in Georgia, combined with groundbreaking research on strategies to stop rejection of transplants by establishing true immune tolerance, is a central focus of the Emory Transplant Center.

Source: Emory University Health Sciences Center