Monday, March 12, 2007

Successful Islet Cell Transplant Without Immunosuppressive Therapy In Mice With Type 1 Diabetes

This was another interesting article which incorporates some of the issues identified in my post this weekend, this one coming from researchers in New York.

Successful Islet Cell Transplant Without Immunosuppressive Therapy In Mice With Type 1 Diabetes
Medical News Today
Mar 12, 2007

Scientists at Weill Cornell Medical College may have reached a breakthrough in the search for a lasting cure for type 1 diabetes.

Reporting in the Feb. 20 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team greatly boosted the number of immune T-cells able to shield transplanted pancreatic islet cells from attack by the immune system. Insulin-producing islet cells are deficient in type 1 diabetes.

"If we can replicate this in humans, we might someday do away with the lifelong use of powerful immunosuppressive drugs that patients must take after islet cell transplant -- drugs that we believe also do harm to islet cells over time," explains the study's senior author Dr. Manikkam Suthanthiran, chief of the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension at Weill Cornell Medical College and chief of the Department of Transplantation Medicine at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Type 1 diabetes is an inherited disorder in which the body's immune cells attack islet cells in the pancreas, reducing or eliminating the body's ability to produce the blood-sugar hormone. It is distinct from the much more common type 2 form of diabetes, where obesity and other factors cause a gradual decline in cells' sensitivity to insulin.

Scientists have sought to reverse type 1 diabetes by transplanting new islet cells. The procedure has met with some success -- in fact, Dr. Suthanthiran's team at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell performed the first successful islet transplantation in the tri-state area in patients with type 1 diabetes in 2004.

However, problems remain. "To stave off the destruction of transplanted cells, patients must be placed on lifelong immunosuppressive therapy," Dr. Suthanthiran explains. "Besides having powerful side effects, we're learning that these drugs can be toxic to islet cells, too."

Now, an innovative biochemical manipulation of immune cells may get around that problem.

Working in collaboration with researchers at The Rockefeller University, the research team focused on immune system regulatory T-cells (T regs). These cells help the immune system decide which entities are "enemies" and which are "friendly" and should be left alone.

"Specifically, there are a subset of T-cells with cell-surface proteins CD4 and CD25, which are called natural regulatory T-cells," Dr. Suthanthiran explains. "These cells express a key factor called FOXP3, and the CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ regulatory T-cells suppress the runaway immune response to islet cells. Without Foxp3, the suppression of the islet destructive response cannot take place."

Unfortunately, Foxp3-positive T-cells make up a paltry 2%-5% of the total T-cell population, so they have little impact in shielding transplanted islet cells from harm.

However, working with the standard mouse model for type 1 diabetes, the researchers were able to convert the much more common form of CD4+ CD25- T-cells into CD4+CD25+ T-cells that did express protective FOXP3.

"We did so by a two-pronged approach," Dr. Suthanthiran says. On the one hand, the research team exposed the much more common form of CD4+ CD25- T-cells to transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-b), which helps switch the T-cell over to a Foxp3 expressing cell.

But TGF-b on its own is too blunt an instrument.

"If we turn all of these T-cells into random immune suppressors, that could lead to more cancers and other problems," the researcher explains. "So, we used another immune system signaler, the dendritic cell, to target Foxp3 activity much more specifically and shield only the islet cells from immune system attack."

Study co-researcher Dr. Ralph Steinman of The Rockefeller University actually discovered the dendritic cell and its role in immune system signaling, and was instrumental in this research, Dr. Suthanthiran says. Dr. Steinman's group has shown that dendritic cells are highly efficient in turning on natural regulatory cells into islet protective cells.

"When CD4+ CD25- T-cells came into contact with both TGF-b and the specific antigen-presenting dendritic cells, they switched over to the immunosuppressive FOXP3 variety," he says. "The dendritic cells made sure that this protective immunosuppression was targeted to islet cells, specifically."

The result: successful islet transplantation in diabetic mice without any pharmacologic immunosuppression; the transplanted islet cells stayed healthy and produced insulin over the full nine weeks of the study.

And there was a bonus: "We also determined that this approach shields the pancreas' own islet cells from harm," the researcher says. "That's important, because newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes patients often have some percentage of working islet cells remaining. This strategy might protect those cells, as well as the transplanted cells."

According to Dr. Suthanthiran, there's no reason to believe this approach wouldn't also protect other types of transplanted cells or organs, including lung, kidney and hearts transplants.

"It's also important to note that we were treating established diabetes in this mouse model," Dr. Suthanthiran says. "Most of the success so far has been in preventing disease before it sets in, but this is akin to going into a house and putting out the fire after it has already started."

Of course, it remains to be seen if success in mice will translate to success in human type 1 diabetes. But Dr. Suthanthiran says he is optimistic.

"We want to create a transplant situation where we don't have to deliver any outside immunosuppressive drugs," he says. "That would truly be the best kind of cure."

This work was funded by the American Society of Transplantation, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Co-researchers include lead author Dr. Xunrong Luo, formerly at Weill Cornell Medical College, now at Northwestern University, Chicago; Dr. Hua Yang and Dr. Ruchuang Ding of Weill Cornell Medical College; Samantha L. Bailey and Kathryn Pothoven of Northwestern University; and Dr. Kristin V. Tarbell (co-lead author) and Dr. Ralph M. Steinman of The Rockefeller University, New York City.

Weill Cornell Medical College

Weill Cornell Medical College -- located in New York City -- is committed to excellence in research, teaching, patient care and the advancement of the art and science of medicine. Weill Cornell, which is a principal academic affiliate of New York-Presbyterian Hospital, offers an innovative curriculum that integrates the teaching of basic and clinical sciences, problem-based learning, office-based preceptorships, and primary care and doctoring courses. Physicians and scientists of Weill Cornell Medical College are engaged in cutting-edge research in such areas as stem cells, genetics and gene therapy, geriatrics, neuroscience, structural biology, cardiovascular medicine, AIDS, obesity, cancer and psychiatry -- and continue to delve ever deeper into the molecular basis of disease in an effort to unlock the mysteries behind the human body and the malfunctions that result in serious medical disorders. Weill Cornell Medical College is the birthplace of many medical advances -- from the development of the Pap test for cervical cancer to the synthesis of penicillin, the first successful embryo-biopsy pregnancy and birth in the U.S., and most recently, the world's first clinical trial for gene therapy for Parkinson's disease. Weill Cornell's Physician Organization includes 650 clinical faculty, who provide the highest quality of care to their patients.

New York-Presbyterian Hospital
425 East 61st St., Fl. 7
New York, NY 10021

Article URL:


BetterCell said...

Weill Cornell Medical Center is more concerned with their own self image and public relations rather than good medical care. Let us not forget Libby Zion whose death they facilitated because of negligence and serotonin toxicity. Basically, poor medical care.

Scott S said...

I haven't any personal experience with Weill Cornell Medical Center, so I can't really comment, just reporting a finding I thought was interesting. But I'll keep it in mind if I ever need surgery!!