Centre for Human Islet Transplant and Beta Cell Regeneration
The Centre for Human Islet Transplant and Beta-Cell Regeneration (CHITBR) supports scientists and clinicians from nine different disciplines—from bench to bedside—to conduct research addressing the main limitations of beta-cell transplant. MSFHR infrastructure funding will provide for technical support and expertise in four core facilities:
- Core 1 – Expansion of facilities for human islet and pancreatic tissue. Building on current resources at the Ike Barber Transplant Laboratory, the Centre will develop a tissue bank, provide standardized testing of islet function in transplant recipients, share data with international transplant registries, and transport and process additional pancreatic tissue.
- Core 2 – Beta-Cell Function. The Centre will provide state-of-the-art tools and approaches for assessing beta-cell function, both in vitro and in vivo. The in vitro component will provide standardized quality control testing for human islet grafts. The in vivo components will provide assistance and expertise with pre-clinical tests of long-term islet survival and function.
- Core 3 – Molecular Engineering. The Centre’s researchers will share in expertise, resources and equipment for genetic engineering approaches to improving islet survival and function, including protecting them from immune attack and improving their secretion of insulin. Genetic engineering approaches may also offer a solution to the restricted supply of tissue for transplant.
- Core 4 – Immuno-monitoring. The Centre will provide techniques and resources for both assessment of and investigation into potential modification of the host immune response to protect transplanted cells from immune attack. The Centre also plans to recruit and educate outstanding trainees by providing them with a stimulating cross-disciplinary training environment, and attract young investigators by offering research tools and mentoring opportunities.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects more than 2.2 million Canadians, with approximately 60,000 new cases diagnosed each year. For the 10 per cent of diabetes sufferers who have type 1 diabetes, the condition results in a lifetime of insulin dependence. Over the long term, diabetics suffer devastating complications: kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage, heart disease, stroke, gangrene and impotence. Insulin therapy itself can cause life-threatening hypoglycemia. These complications result in a huge socio-economic burden, totalling $1 billion per year in British Columbia alone. Transplantation of beta-cells is a promising treatment option that eliminates the need for insulin injections. However, there are serious drawbacks to this therapy, including side effects associated with lifelong immunosuppression. Ensuring an adequate supply of insulin-producing cells for transplant is also a challenge: there is a scarcity of human cadaver pancreases available for transplant, and researchers remain unable to generate insulin-producing cells in the laboratory.
While islet transplantation is a promising treatment option for individuals with diabetes mellitus (type 1 diabetes), it currently has significant limitations. The chronic immunosupression required to prevent islet destruction by the recipient immune system can result in serious side effects. In addition, growth of islets and their insulin-producing beta cells in a laboratory has not been accomplished, severely limiting the availability of donor cells. Researchers in this unit are working to develop new ways to improve islet transplantation and develop new, sustainable sources of beta cells.