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How Islet Cells Are Isolated

DRI Scientific Director's Innovation Makes Islet Transplantation Possible


Islets cells are scattered throughout the pancreas. So, when we receive a donor pancreas, we need to separate the islets from the rest of the organ. This process is called "islet isolation."

Until the late 1980s, this was difficult to do. But then Dr. Camillo Ricordi, DRI’s Director, developed the "Ricordi Chamber" -- an automated method for isolating islets. This dramatically increased the number of cells that could be obtained from one organ, and that resulted in the ability to perform islet transplants worldwide. 

The transplant process itself is a relatively simple, non-surgical procedure performed in about an hour. A catheter (small tube) is inserted into the portal vein that leads to the liver. The patient remains awake for the entire procedure.

Similar to an intravenous (“IV”) drip, the purified islets flow from an infusion bag through this vein and are dispersed throughout the liver. There, the transplanted cells develop a new blood supply and begin to produce insulin.

In clinical trials, we have demonstrated that islet transplantation can reverse diabetes.

Now, with the DRI BioHub, we are taking important steps to create an optimal environment within the body to house the transplanted cells. We're also making progress in finding a greater supply of insulin-producing cells for transplant, and are finding ways to allow the recipient to accept the cells long-term, without the need for anti-rejection drugs.


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