UW Today

This is an archived article.

August 11, 1999

Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International funds a Seattle trial of human islet transplantation

Seattle-area transplant experts, led by surgeons at University of Washington Medical Center, are about to launch a clinical research trial in human islet transplantation. Islets are located in the pancreas and normally produce insulin, needed to regulate blood sugar. In persons with Type I diabetes, the islets fail to produce insulin.

Participants in the clinical trial will be people whose kidneys have failed as a result of diabetes. Along with a kidney transplant, they will also receive an islet transplant, with the goal of providing a safer and simpler alternative to transplantation of the whole pancreas.

The Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International is funding the research with a grant of $750,000. The clinical trial will be led by Dr. Christopher Marsh, associate professor of surgery and director of UW Medical Center’s Kidney/Pancreas Transplant Program; Dr. R. Brian Stevens, assistant professor of surgery and medical director of the Human Islet Isolation Program at the Northwest Tissue Center; and Dr. Paul Robertson, CEO and scientific director of the Pacific Northwest Research Institute.

The trial involves all transplant centers in the Seattle area, including Virginia Mason Medical Center and Swedish Medical Center.

“Islet transplantation up to now has been successful in only about 10 percent of cases,” said Marsh. “However, recent developments in islet isolation, culture and storage have increased our optimism that we can achieve greater success in the near future.”

In addition, said Marsh, with the development of new immunosuppressive drugs that are less toxic to human islets, there is the hope that the majority of patients transplanted with islets can produce adequate insulin, allowing them to achieve normal blood-sugar regulation and effectively curing them of diabetes.

The first transplants under the clinical trial are likely to occur in November or December of this year.