As part of an international effort, Northwestern researchers started a clinical trial last month for a transplantation treatment of Type 1 diabetes

Stephanie Wang

As part of an international effort, Northwestern researchers started a clinical trial last month for a transplantation treatment of Type 1 diabetes.

“It’s an attempt to come as close as we can to a cure for diabetes,” said Prof. Dixon Kaufman, a principal investigator of the study at NU.

The minimally invasive procedure implants islet cells from a donor’s pancreas into a patient with the disease. The cells produce insulin, which is absent in those with Type 1 diabetes, and help control blood sugar.

“It’s cellular replacement therapy for their failed islets,” said Kaufman, who is also the surgery vice chairman at Feinberg School of Medicine and a professor of organ transplantation.

The Phase III study, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, will gather results from a total of 48 participants from sites across the nation and abroad, said Elyse Stuart, clinical research associate in Feinberg’s organ transplant division. This study only targets the 1 percent to 2 percent of people with Type 1 diabetes who struggle to regulate their blood sugar with conventional insulin treatments, Kaufman said.

“There’s about a million people in the United States with Type 1 diabetes, and there’s a big spectrum of severity,” he said, adding that this is the first Phase III study that has ever been done for islet transplants.

In a successful transplant, the islet cells can control blood sugar levels, although some patients still need to take small amounts of insulin, he said. The study will not test the treatment on people with Type 2 diabetes, which usually develops later in life.

NU researchers are partnered with Northwestern Memorial Hospital, which has recently built a new facility to process islet cells before transplant, Stuart said. After the study, which Kaufman estimates will be completed in about four years, scientists will try to obtain a license from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to manufacture the cells.