Launches Multimillion-Dollar Center for Islet Transplantation at Emory
New Center to
Pursue Solutions to Transplant Rejection
Atlanta, Georgia March
23, 2002 - 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
"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."
Two of the Center's projects
will focus on using a steroidfree 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
JDRF, the world's leading
nonprofit, nongovernmental funder of diabetes research, was founded
in 1970 by the parents of children with juvenile diabetesa disease
which strikes children suddenly, makes them insulin dependent for life,
and carries the constant threat of devastating complications. Since
inception, JDRF has provided more than $500 million to diabetes research
worldwide. We are proud to say that 87 cents of every dollar goes directly
to research and education about research. Our mission is constant: to
find a cure for diabetes and its complications through the support of
research. For more information, visit our website at www.jdrf.org,
or call 800-533-CURE.