UIC named NIH Islet Cell Resource Center

December 19, 2006

The University of Illinois at Chicago has been named a National Institutes of Health Islet Cell Resource Center and awarded a three-year $3.25 million grant.

One of seven federally funded centers in the United States, UIC will provide researchers across the country with human pancreatic islet cells for transplantation into diabetic patients and provide cells for basic science research.

"We will also conduct research and develop ways to improve cell isolation techniques, cellular viability and functioning, and shipping procedures for islet cells," said José Oberholzer, principal investigator and director of cell and pancreas transplantation at UIC.

Working in collaboration with other islet resource centers, UIC will test and implement standardized methods for assessing islets to determine what factors may predict a successful islet transplant.

Insulin-producing islet cells from cadaveric donor pancreases are isolated and processed in a state-of-the-art, FDA-approved laboratory at the medical center.

The laboratory has provided islet cells for successful transplantation in patients at the medical center and has also shipped islets to institutions in the United States and Europe.

Islet cell transplantation allows patients with type-1 diabetes to achieve insulin independence, glucose control and freedom from hypoglycemic attacks, according to Oberholzer. Transplantation offers the most promise for achieving a functional cure for diabetes, but it also has limitations.

One shortcoming is the lack of organ donors. There are only 6,000 donor pancreases each year in the United States and each organ can only produce enough islets to help, at most, one diabetic.

Transplant recipients must also take drugs to suppress their immune system in order to avoid rejection of the islets.

"There are 20.8 million diabetic patients in the United States," said Oberholzer, "and most of them could benefit from an islet transplant if an unlimited source of cells was available and if the cells could be protected from rejection by a better means than the current immunosuppression."

Oberholzer and a team of international researchers have formed the Chicago Project, a collaboration of top scientists who are committed to helping diabetics worldwide by developing a cell-based cure for diabetes in the next five years. The Chicago Project aims to develop an unlimited supply of islet cells from donor pancreases and find a way to encapsulate the cells to prevent rejection.

"Becoming an NIH-funded Islet Resource Center will enhance our efforts to find a functional, or cell-based, cure for diabetes," said Oberholzer. "Clinicans and researchers at other centers will also benefit by having high-quality islets procured, processed and distributed by a core facility with the highest standards."

Part of UIC's grant will fund scientific research at Northwestern University to improve the technology for evaluating the quality of islets.
UIC ranks among the nation's top 50 universities in federal research funding and is Chicago's largest university with 25,000 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state's major public medical center. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners in hundreds of programs to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.

For more information about UIC, visit www.uic.edu

University of Illinois at Chicago

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