A team led by David Sutherland, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the Schulze Diabetes Institute and founder of the former DIIT, was the first to perform a human islet transplant, in 1974. Since then, Hering, Sutherland and others have established the protocol standard for human islet transplantation. They are continually improving outcomes by refining the process to minimize the number of cells used and the need for immunosuppressive drugs. Nearly 90 percent of patients who have undergone the procedure are now insulin-independent.
The research team has also successfully reversed diabetes in animal models using pig islet cells and has established a relationship with Spring Point Project, a nonprofit organization that raises medical-grade pigs to supply islets for transplantation. The researchers are currently developing a cell therapy to offset immunosuppression issues related to transplant.
Firpo is investigating the reprogramming of adult skin cells into stem cells that can generate islet cells. She also uses stem cells to study the development of the cells and tissues involved with the diabetes, with the hope that better understanding may lead to discoveries that would enable islet cell regeneration or prevent the islet cells from being destroyed in the first place.
"This most generous gift positions us to collaborate on the unprecedented and real opportunities that exist today in stem cell, transplantation and immunology research. These synergies will help us find the best cure faster. Stem cells provide another source of islets for transplantation and offer us tremendous potential to conquer this complicated disease," said Firpo.
Internal and external advisory boards will provide insight, feedback and
oversight throughout the proc
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