Insulin producing islet cells

Our Research Progress


2020 Long-Term Culture of Human Pancreatic Slices Reveals Regeneration of Insulin-Producing Cells

DRI scientists developed a method allowing for the long-term culture of “pancreatic slices” to study the regeneration of the human pancreas in real time. The results, published Nature Communications, demonstrate for the first time that extended cultures of near-intact human pancreatic tissue retain the ability of the live organ to replenish insulin-producing beta cells. The use of this system as a model to study pancreatic regeneration could have important therapeutic implications for the treatment of diabetes.


Continuous glucose monitoring of DRI islet transplant recipients shows near-normal blood sugar levels2019 Long-Term Islet Transplant Recipients Show Near-Normal Glucose Control

Using continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), DRI scientists show that a small group of islet transplant recipients who were insulin independent for an average of 10 years have blood sugar levels that are similar to those without type 1 diabetes.



Engineered 'suicide genes' safely grow insulin-producing beta cells from stem cells2019 Engineered 'Suicide Genes' Prevent Tumors in Stem-Cell Derived Beta Cells

For the first time, DRI scientists engineer a stem cell line containing two 'suicide genes' that induce cell death in all but the desired insulin-producing cells. This double fail-safe approach, published in Stem Cell Reports, opens the door to advancing cell-replacement therapies for people living with type 1 diabetes.


The Diabetes Research Institute launches POSEIDON clinical trial to assess the impact of high-dose Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D in type 1 diabetes.2018 DRI Launches POSEIDON Study to Assess Impact of Omega-3 and Vitamin D in Type 1 Diabetes

Several scientific reports have suggested that high-dose omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D may have a beneficial effect on autoimmune conditions, like type 1 diabetes. DRI researchers will formally test the effects of this intervention in children and adults newly diagnosed and in those with longer-standing T1D to evaluate any benefit on reducing inflammation, halting autoimmunity, and increasing insulin sensitivity and secretion. 

DRI scientists show that pancreatic progenitors reside within large ducts of the human pancreas 2018 DRI Scientists Identify Unique Pancreatic Stem Cells

DRI scientists confirm the existence of progenitor cells (pancreatic stem cells) within the large ducts of the human pancreas that can be stimulated to develop into glucose-responsive beta cells. The findings, published in Cell Reports, could pave the way to regenerating a person's own insulin-producing cells in type 1 diabetes patients.



DRI researchers detect biochemical signature as a potential T1D biomarker2017 DRI Scientists Identify New Metabolic "Signature" as Potential Key Biomarker for Type 1 Diabetes Development

Currently, there is no good biomarker to detect whether the immune attack on the beta cells is underway. DRI researchers mapped out the biochemical changes that occur during type 1 diabetes onset, which is important not only for preventing the disease, but also for monitoring the recurrence of immune attack. This first-ever longitudinal study in experimental models was published in the Journal of Proteome Research


Novel Tissue-EnNew England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) logo2017 Novel Tissue-Engineered Islet Transplant Achieves Insulin Independence

DRI researchers report on the first trial participant to receive an islet transplant within a tissue-engineered scaffold, demonstrating that islets transplanted within this BioHub platform can successfully engraft and achieve insulin independence. The trial tests the omentum as an alternative transplant site. The one-year findings are published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).


DRI researchers develop and test tissue-engineered platform published in Diabetes2016 Researchers Develop and Test "Biological" DRI BioHub Platform

The DRI develops and tests a bioengineered scaffold to house insulin-producing cells. This biological platform, which uses the recipient's own plasma combined with thrombin, offers the opportunity to incorporate helper cells, nutrients, and local immune protection. These preclinical experiments are the basis for FDA submission for a Phase I/II clinical trial. The work is featured on the cover of the journal Diabetes.


DRI's Dr. Allison Bayer has achieved 100 percent diabetes remission in experimental models with antigen-specific Treg therapy.2016 Novel Protocol Achieves 100 Percent Disease Remission in Experimental Models

DRI's Dr. Allison Bayer and her team have developed a novel protocol demonstrating that adoptive Regulatory T cell (T reg) therapy can reverse the disease and reset autoimmunity in experimental models, achieving disease remission in 100 percent of the recipients. Importantly, the therapy was directed specifically at halting the destruction of the beta cells while the normal immune responses remained intact.  


Exposure to BMP-7 induces islet like structures.

2015 DRI Researchers Convert Pancreatic Exocrine Cells into Insulin-Producing Endocrine Cells Using a Single Protein, BMP-7

Researchers successfully convert non-insulin producing cells into insulin-producing cells using a single agent, BMP-7 (bone morphogenetic protein-7), which is already clinically approved by the FDA. Their published findings in Diabetes demonstrate for the first time that non-endocrine tissue can be reprogrammed to respond to blood glucose without the use of any genetic manipulation, representing a safer method to increase the supply of islets for transplant into people with T1D.

Encapsulation of islets_PNAS cover

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 had 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.


DRI BioHub

2013 DRI Introduces Plans for BioHub Mini Organ

Scientists unveil their plan for the DRI BioHub, a bioengineered "mini organ" designed to mimic the native 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.


Mesenchymal stem cells have beneficial properties and may eliminate the need for immunosuppression.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).


MicroRNA signature of the human developing pancreas_BMC Genomics2010 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.


Recurrence of Type 1 Diabetes after Simultaneous Pancreas-Kidney Transplant_Diabetes 20102010 Study Shows Recurrence of T1D, Need for Multiple Strategies

Scientists show recurrence of type 1 diabetes may occur in patients after kidney-pancreas transplantation. Despite use of immunosuppression and continuous function of the kidney and exocrine portion of the transplanted pancreas, researchers identified the presence of autoimmune cells known to target insulin-producing cells. This study demonstrates the need to block the immune response to foreign tissue and prevent autoimmunity. The findings are published in Diabetes.


Auto-islet transplant after pancreas trauma_NEJM 20102010 DRI Performs 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 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.


Researchers Pioneer "Living Window" to Observe Islets in Real Time_Nature Medicine Cover 20082008 Researchers Pioneer "Living Window" to Observe Islets in Real Time

DRI researchers develop 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 islets in the same model over time as nerves and blood vessels develop and immune reactions occur. The work is featured on the cover of Nature Medicine.


Oxygen Sandwich Invention Supplies Critical Oxygen for Enhancing Beta Cell Growth_Stem Cells2007 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.



Discovery shows that human and animal islets differ_PNAS2006 Discovery Shows that Human and Animal Islets Differ Dramatically

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).


Islet transplantation improves patients' quality of life2006 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.



TAT protein therapy is safer method for turning stem cells into insulin-producing cells.2005 DRI Develops Safer Method for Turning Stem Cells into Insulin-Producing Cells

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


DRI performs first successful islet transplant in Asia.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.


New islet transplant protocol leads to insulin independence.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.



DRI study reignites global interest in islet transplantation.1999 DRI Study Results Ignite Global Interest in Islet Transplantation

Using monthly injections of a monoclonal antibody, DRI is the first to show that transplanted islets 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


1997 Researchers Identify Cells that Regulate Autoimmunity_Nature Genetics1997 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.


Biopsy of liver shows islet function after five years 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.


Organ transplant patients become insulin independent after receiving islets.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. 


DRI Director Camillo Ricordi, MD, invented the automated method of islet isolation, called the Ricordi Chamber.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.


DRI discovers new method for visualizing islets1987 Researchers Discover New Method for Visualizing Islets, Improving Outcomes

DRI's Rodolfo Alejandro, M.D., identifies a chemical that differentiates islets from non-islet tissue of the pancreas during the isolation process. This zinc-binding substance (dithizone) is absorbed only by islets, giving them a distinctive red color. This discovery enables 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 Transplantation.


First-of-its-kind clinical islet transplant reduces insulin requirements1985 DRI Performs First Clinical Islet Transplants

Based upon results obtained in preclinical transplant models, DRI researchers begin the first human pilot clinical trial in patients with type 1 diabetes. The results of the pioneering study appeared in Advanced Models for the Therapy of Insulin-Dependent Diabetes.


Successful islet transplant in dogs restores natural insulin production.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.

Blood glucose control during pregnancy_19781978 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

DRI researchers reverse diabetes in rodents_19751975 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.



back to top

Keep up with our progress toward a cure & more

Be a DRI Insider - Get News!