Providing Protection to Insulin-Producing Islet Cells
Your body’s immune system is always on guard – on the lookout for anything “foreign” that might have entered your body. When it detects an invader, it attacks. So when islet cells are transplanted from a donor pancreas into a patient, the patient’s immune system wants to destroy, or “reject” those foreign cells.
To protect the cells from attack, the patient takes “anti-rejection” drugs, also called immunosuppressants. As that word implies, these drugs “suppress” the immune system. The problem: you must take these powerful drugs for life. A suppressed immune system exposes the patient to infections and diseases. And, the drugs themselves can cause harmful side effects.
That’s why the DRI and our collaborators worldwide are so focused on finding better ways to protect the transplanted cells in the BioHub. We’re investigating several methods to accomplish this, including preventing inflammation at the site of the transplant, using “helper” cells that offer natural defenses, protecting cells by wrapping them in a tight coating, and delivering low‐dose anti-rejection drugs locally, only at the site of the transplant.
And there’s another critical issue with the immune system. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system sees your body’s own islet cells as foreign and destroys them. This is called “autoimmunity.” When islet cells are transplanted, the recipient could experience a recurrence of autoimmunity. DRI researchers are working to stop this attack from happening again.
Immune Tolerance – Educating the immune system to accept islet cells.
Cell Encapsulation – Trying to ”hide” islet cells from the immune system.
Preventing Inflammation - Blocking the signals that trigger an immune response.
Adding “Helper” Cells -- Using the BioHub to give islets a helping hand.
Those who receive islet transplants must take immunosuppressive -- or "anti-rejection" -- drugs to prevent their immune system from rejecting the newly transplanted islets. DRI researchers are working on strategies to eliminate the need for these drugs.