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A new approach to islet transplant

Project summary

Development of a novel donor human islet / recipient endothelial progenitor cell chimeric tissue transplant for Type 1 diabetes 

Professor James Shaw will work with researchers from Israel to pioneer a new approach that involves transplanting insulin-producing bet cells with cells that improve blood vessel growth and oxygen supply. This technique could dramatically improve the current successof islet transplants, and ultimately aims to help free people with Type 1 diabetes from insulin with a single transplant.

Background to research

Islet transplants are currently available through the NHS, to help to improve diabetes management and restore awareness of hypoglycaemia in adults with Type 1 diabetes. But islet transplants are not perfect: donors (and therefore the number of available islet cells) are limited, and transplanted cells stop working over time, so that follow-up transplants become necessary.  One of the reasons for this is that islet cells need a constant supply of blood and oxygen to survive. During a transplant, this supply is interrupted, damaging the cells so that more than half of them die off within a week. Previous studies have shown that, if islet cells are grown and transplanted with another type of cell (called ‘endothelial progenitor cells’) that encourage new blood vessels to grow, they help to keep the islet cells alive and functioning. Researchers in Israel have recently developed a technique that allows them to isolate these endothelial progenitor cells from the blood.

Research aims

Professor James Shaw at Newcastle University is one of the leading UK experts on islet transplant. In this study, his team will collaborate with researchers from Israel to pioneer a new approach to grow and transplant islet cells with endothelial progenitor cells.  They hope that this will help to keep the transplanted cells supplied with oxygen. They will combine human islet cells and endothelial progenitor cells to grow 'mini-organs'. The team will then study the impact of the mini-organs in animal models of diabetes.  

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

The researchers hope that the new approach will keep transplanted islets supplied with blood, helping them to survive and function for longer. If this technique works in rats, it will pave the way for trials in humans. If successful, this technique could become a truly life-changing therapy for people with Type 1 diabetes, by helping to free them from insulin therapy with a single islet transplant.

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