With genetics amazingly compatible to humans, pigs can provide an unlimited source of islets for transplantation. The team led by Bernhard Hering, M.D., scientific director of the Schulze Diabetes Institute, has successfully reversed diabetes in animal models using pig islet cells. Soon, the Institute will be in the position to submit an application to the FDA to move forward with pig-to-human clinical trials.
Looking ahead, our researchers will be pursuing two distinct technologies for advancing pig islet transplantation to cure diabetes:
- The first approach, already moving toward clinical trials, employs so-called “wild type” or regular pigs. The process is much like that of human islet transplantation. The islets from these pigs are harvested and processed, and then transplanted into the patient’s liver. The patient is given standard immunosuppression therapy to prevent rejection of the transplanted islets.
Dr. Hering’s research team is currently developing a cell therapy to offset immunosuppression issues related to xenotransplantation (transplantation from one species to another).
- The second approach uses “transgenic” animals – pigs that are genetically engineered to possess a special gene to reduce or eliminate the need for immunosuppression. The islets from these pigs will be transplanted into a specially created (bioengineered) site.
The patient will receive a vaccination prior to transplant to further help reduce or prevent rejection of the islets. The goal here is twofold: to obtain a readily available supply of islets and eliminate the need for – and negative side effects of -- immunosuppression drugs.
The Schulze Diabetes Institute has an established relationship with Spring Point Project, a nonprofit organization that raises medical-grade pigs to supply islets for transplantation at the Institute.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Hering is internationally renowned for his expertise in islet cell transplantation. His research focuses on finding innovative cell-based therapies to restore blood glucose control and insulin independence for people with type 1 diabetes.