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Diabetes Research Institute Timeline of Progress

40 Years of Cure-Focused Diabetes Research Progress

2015    DRI Successfully Transplants First Patient in Pilot BioHub Trial

The first patient in the DRI's FDA-approved Phase I/II clinical trial to test an alternative site for insulin-producing cells was successfully transplanted and free from insulin injections within days following the procedure. The early results show positive signs for safety and effectiveness of this novel transplant procedure, which was the first implant of islets on the surface of the omentum within a biodegradable scaffold (one of the BioHub platforms). The study builds on decades of progress in islet transplantation and is an important step toward the development of the DRI BioHub. 

2014     DRI Pioneers New Encapsulation Technology

DRI researchers demonstrate that their unique cell coating process allows efficient encapsulation of islets without compromising viability and function of the cells. The team's novel method for "shrink wrapping" each cell has been designed to specifically address what are considered to be the limitations of traditional cell encapsulation strategies. The results of their study earn the cover position in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

2013     DRI Introduces Plans for BioHub Mini Organ

DRI scientists unveil their plan for the DRI BioHub, a bioengineered "mini organ" designed to mimic the endocrine function of the pancreas. The platform technology will contain thousands of insulin-producing cells that manage blood sugar levels in real time, plus other components that keep the cells healthy and viable long term. The DRI will focus on three primary areas: the development of a new transplant site; the development of a reliable supply of islets; and the ability to sustain the cells' function without the need for harsh, systemic anti-rejection drugs.

2012     DRI and Collaborators Use Stem Cells to Eliminate Immunosuppression

Scientists from the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and DRI Federation center at Xiamen University (China) show that the use of mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) in kidney transplant recipients may replace a powerful anti-rejection drug. The results are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

2010     Researchers Identify Master Regulatory Genes in Pancreatic Islets

The DRI’s molecular biology team is the first to identify a disproportionately higher number of genes, called miR-7, in pancreatic islets compared to the non-islet tissue of the organ. These master regulatory genes are also found in fetal endocrine cells during development and play a central role in islet cell development, as well as in maintaining this endocrine function (as opposed to developing into other tissue). The findings are published in BMC Genomics.

2010     Study Demonstrates Recurrence of Type 1 Diabetes, Need for Multiple Strategies

DRI scientists show that recurrence of type 1 diabetes may occur in patients following combined kidney-pancreas transplantation. Despite chronic use of immunosuppression and continuous function of the kidney and the exocrine portion of the transplanted pancreas, researchers identified the presence of autoimmune cells known to target insulin-producing beta cells. This definitive study demonstrates the need for strategies to block both the immune response to foreign tissue, as well as prevent the recurrence of the autoimmune process that caused diabetes in the first place. The findings are published in the journal Diabetes.

2010     DRI Performs Successful Auto-Islet Transplant after Pancreas Trauma

DRI researchers report on the success of an islet auto-transplant performed after severe trauma.  Walter Reed Army Medical Center surgeons remove the badly damaged pancreas from a soldier wounded in the Middle East. The tissue is sent to DRI where islets are isolated and sent back for transplant into the same patient, preventing diabetes.  The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, indicate that islet isolation and auto-transplant in cases of severe abdominal trauma can be performed using a remote processing center. 

2008     Researchers Pioneer "Living Window" to Observe Islets in Real Time

DRI researchers develop a novel method to monitor healthy islets in a living experimental model. For the first time, researchers can obtain real-time imaging of functioning islets transplanted in the anterior chamber of the eye. The clear "window" allows researchers to witness the same islets in the same model over time as nerves and blood vessels develop and immune reactions occur. The work is published in Nature Medicine and featured on the journal’s cover. 

2007     Invention Supplies Critical Oxygen, Increases Beta Cell Growth

Scientists at the DRI design and test a new cell culture device that closely mimics the natural oxygen environment, demonstrating a dramatic increase in beta cell development from an embryonic mouse pancreas.  The findings were published in the journal Stem Cells.

2006     Discovery Shows that Human and Animal Islets Dramatically Differ

Scientists from the DRI’s islet physiology team discover that the internal structure of a human islet cell is dramatically different from the more often studied rodent islet - a striking finding that argues for the importance of studying human islets if medical research is to benefit people living with diabetes. The findings were published Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

2006     Islet Transplantation Improves Patients' Quality of Life

A Diabetes Research Institute study shows type 1 diabetes patients’ quality of life and sense of well-being improve following islet transplantation despite having to take harsh anti-rejection drugs. The findings were published in the American Journal of Transplantation

2005     DRI Develops Safer Method for Turning Stem Cells into Insulin-Producing Cells

Scientists report that, for the first time, protein technology can be used to promote pancreatic cell differentiation. DRI's Stem Cell and Molecular Biology teams use this unique technology to show how stem cells can be progressively educated along the pathway leading to functional beta cells. The findings are published in Diabetes, and open a promising new avenue of research that might enable the development of more insulin-producing islet cells for transplantation in the future. 

2003     DRI Performs First Successful Islet Transplant in Asia

Espousing its philosophy of global collaboration, the Diabetes Research Institute was asked to send members of its clinical cell transplant team to Shanghai's First People's Hospital to assist the Chinese team with both the islet isolation and transplantation efforts. Receiving telephone guidance from the DRI's senior faculty, the DRI team in China was able to overcome every technical obstacle encountered, despite the formidable distance, technology, and language barriers.

2001     New Islet Transplant Protocol Leads to Insulin Independence

Using a new combination of anti-rejection drugs and improved culture media for islets, the DRI's cell transplant team performs a series of "islets alone" transplants in study participants with long-standing type 1 diabetes. The recipients are able to discontinue insulin therapy for more than a year following islet transplantation.

1999     DRI Study Results Ignite Global Interest in Islet Transplantation 

Using monthly injections of a new monoclonal antibody, the DRI's pre-clinical research team is the first to show that transplanted islet cells reverse diabetes in pre-clinical models without the need for any other anti-rejection drug. The recipients remain insulin independent for over one year post-transplant and emerging rejection episodes can be reversed using this antibody. Even after discontinuation of the antibody, many subjects remain off insulin with glucose responsiveness for several months. The results are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

1998     DRI Performs First "Islets Alone" Clinical Transplantation Trial

The first clinical trial in which patients can receive islets "alone" without requiring transplantation in combination with another organ is launched. It is the first time patients are eligible to receive islets before the long-term complications associated with diabetes set in. Twenty-three patients from around the U.S. are admitted into the study and placed on a transplant waiting list in mid-1998.    

1997     Researchers Identify Cells that Regulate Autoimmunity

The DRI's immunogenetics team publishes new findings related to insulin production in the thymus and its role in the development of type 1 diabetes. The Nature Genetics paper describes how this type of insulin might play a key role in the immune system’s ability to recognize insulin molecules as “self”. Scientists believe that the amount of thymic insulin might determine either susceptibility to or protection from diabetes.    

1995     Islet Transplant Patient Insulin Independent for Five Years

Biopsies show intact, functioning human islet cells in the liver of a patient who was completely insulin independent for five years following an islet transplant.     

1990     Organ Transplant Patients Become Insulin Independent After Receiving Islets  

Nine patients receive islet cells in conjunction with their multi-organ transplants.  This study, published in The Lancet, demonstrates that islets can produce insulin independence in patients who had previously been pancreatectomized.   

1988     Invention Expands the Number of Clinical Islet Transplantation Trials  

Camillo Ricordi, M.D., develops an automated method for isolating large numbers of islets from a single donor pancreas. This technology leads to expansion of clinical trials in cell therapy for the treatment and cure of type 1 diabetes. The findings were published in the journal Diabetes.

1987     Researchers Discover New Method for Visualizing Islets, Improving Outcomes

DRI researchers identify a chemical that differentiates islets from non-islet tissue of the pancreas during the separation and isolation process. This zinc-binding substance (dithizone) is absorbed only by islet cells, giving them a distinctive red color. This discovery enables the researchers to optimize the cell separation process for improved clinical outcomes. It was also shown that the use of this substance does not interfere with islet function in vitro or in vivo. The findings were published in the journal Transplantation.

1985     First-of-its-Kind Clinical Islet Transplant Reduces Insulin Requirements

DRI performs the first clinical islet transplant in a patient with type 1 diabetes already requiring immunosuppression for a transplanted kidney. The procedure results in a 75 percent reduction of the patient's insulin requirement for almost a year. The pioneering transplant appeared in Advanced Models for the Therapy of Insulin-Dependent Diabetes. 

1984     Successful Islet Transplant in Dogs Restores Natural Insulin Production 

DRI researchers conduct the first successful transplant of healthy islets into dogs with diabetes, restoring long-term natural insulin-production and normalizing blood sugar levels. Previously, these experiments were only successful in the rodent model. The findings were published in the journal Diabetes. 

1978     DRI Develops Gold-Standard Treatment for Pregnant Women with Type 1 Diabetes

Using newly developed self-glucose monitoring and individualized algorithms for intensive insulin therapy, DRI researchers demonstrate that tight blood sugar control in women with type 1 diabetes during pregnancy can result in successful, full-term deliveries with normal birth weights. The study results were published in Diabetes Care. 

1975     DRI Researchers Reverse Diabetes in Rodents

Islet cells are successfully transplanted into rats with diabetes, restoring natural insulin production and normalizing blood sugar levels in laboratory animals. The results are published in the journal Diabetes.  


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