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Major NIH Grant to Advance DRI’s Transplant Immunology Research

Dr. Norma Kenyon and Dr. Dora Weinberg in the preclinical research lab at the Diabetes Research Institute
The previous research done with mesenchymal stem cells by Dr. Norma Kenyon and her team, together with Dr. Amelia Bartholomew, laid the groundwork for this major NIH Program Project grant.

Building upon their preliminary work with mesenchymal stem cells, the DRI’s Dr. Norma Kenyon and Dr. Amelia Bartholomew from the University of Illinois/Chicago have been awarded a major, multi-center grant from the National Institutes of Health to advance their work with mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to improve transplant acceptance. The five-year grant will focus on the effects of MSCs in the settings of cellular and kidney transplantation.

Dr. Kenyon and Dr. Bartholomew are long-time collaborators in the use of MSCs to improve transplant acceptance and long term function.  This is their second collaborative grant and follows their findings published in the journal Diabetes last fall.

In their previous preclinical study, Drs. Kenyon, Bartholomew and colleagues demonstrated that transplant recipients who received mesenchymal stem cells together with the islets had double the function or more as compared to the study models receiving islets alone. Additionally, MSCs have been shown to have the ability to reverse the rejection process and minimize harmful inflammation while promoting tissue repair, as well as the blood vessel growth needed to transport oxygen and other nutrients to the islet cells.

In this new group of studies, titled Immunomodulatory and Regenerative Effects of Mesenchymal Stem Cells on Allografts, Drs. Kenyon and Bartholomew will team up with Drs. Daniel Salomon and Kenton McHenry to further the work on MSC by  1) determining the optimal source of MSCs – whether these cells should come from the recipient or from a third party; 2) verifying that MSCs can consistently reverse rejection episodes – and if so, then developing an MSC-based anti-rejection therapy; 3) analyzing MSCs for the specific characteristics that enhance transplant survival – since all MSCs are not identical, the optimal source of MSCs needs to be identified for the transplant community; and 4) completing islet and kidney pilot studies for inclusion in FDA Investigation New Drug (IND) submissions.

The study is comprised of several components including: 

•      Project 1, Dr. Kenyon, focusing on cellular (islet) transplantation;

•      Project 2, Dr. Bartholomew, focusing on kidney transplantation;

•      Administrative Core, led by Dr. Kenyon.

•      Genomic and Proteomic Analyses Core, led by Dr. Daniel Solomon, Scripps Research Institute, California

•      Data Analyses Core, led by Dr. Kenton McHenry; University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign. 

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