CHICAGO --- In the first step toward animal-to-human transplants of insulin-producing cells for people with type 1 diabetes, Northwestern Medicine scientists have successfully transplanted islets, the cells that produce insulin, from one species to another. And the islets survived without immunosuppressive drugs.
Northwestern scientists developed a new method that prevented rejection of the islets, a huge problem in transplants between species, called xenotransplantation.
"This is the first time that an interspecies transplant of islet cells has been achieved for an indefinite period of time without the use of immunosuppressive drugs," said study co-senior author Stephen Miller. "It's a big step forward."
"Our ultimate goal is to be able to transplant pig islets into humans, but we have to take baby steps," said Xunrong Luo, M.D., also co-senior author of the study that will be published online July 12 in the journal Diabetes. "Pig islets produce insulin that controls blood sugar in humans."
Luo is an associate professor of nephrology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and medical director of the Human Islet Cell Transplantation Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Miller is the Judy Gugenheim Research Professor of Microbiology-Immunology at Feinberg.
For people with hard-to-control type 1 diabetes, a transplant of insulin-producing islets from a deceased donor is one important way to control their chronic disease, in which their bodies do not produce insulin. However, there is a severe shortage of islet cells from deceased donors. Many patients on waiting lists don't receive the transplant or suffer damage to their heart, nerves, eyes and kidneys while they wait.
Using islets from another species would provide wider access to transplants for humans and solve the problem. But concerns about controlling rejection of transplants from a different species have made that appro
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