Experimental Islet Cell Transplants to Treat Juvenile Diabetes

August 14, 2002
News Office: Wallace Ravven (415) 502-6397

Surgeons at UCSF Medical Center plan to perform Northern California's first islet cell transplantation -- an experimental treatment that restores the ability of patients with Type 1 or juvenile diabetes to produce insulin.

The procedure, planned for this fall, will be made possible by the new Islet and Cellular Transplantation Facility, which opened this summer. The new facility, at 1855 Folsom St. in San Francisco, is equipped to harvest insulin-secreting islet cells from donated pancreases.

It also is equipped to process human cells for treatments ranging from new cancer vaccines to gene therapy, each requiring cells to be isolated, processed or modified to prepare for transplantation into patients.

Islet transplantation to treat juvenile diabetes has become dramatically more successful in the past three years. However, until the opening of the new UCSF facility, there was no source for islet cells in Northern California.

Islet cells are isolated from a pancreas in a five-to-six-hour procedure employing tissue-disrupting enzymes, cell separation and specialized centrifugation to yield a pure collection of islets (less than 0.1 percent of the pancreas tissue). Purified cells are cultured for 24 to 48 hours to ensure maximum purity, sterility and function before they are harvested and made available for transplantation. These cells must be transplanted into patients within 48 hours.

The Islet and Cellular Transplantation Facility will provide human cells for treatments that require dendritic cells and bone marrow for cancer vaccines, and for bone marrow cell transplantations to reduce rejection of grafted organs or to restore immune system tolerance in autoimmune patients.

Co-directors of the Islet Transplantation Program are Jeffrey Bluestone, director of the UCSF Diabetes Center, and Dr. Peter Stock, a kidney, pancreas and liver transplant surgeon at UCSF Medical Center.

About 1 million people in the United States have Type 1 or juvenile diabetes, a disease in which the immune system destroys islet cells. Patients face life-long insulin injections and risks of severe complications. Islet transplantations may help to permanently restore the ability to secrete insulin.

The process of human islet cell isolation is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The UCSF facility meets new cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practices) that go in effect in 2004 and that require more stringent control of sterility, temperature, training, documentation and other protocols than in the past.

For information about our children's Diabetes Clinic, please call (415) 353-2605 at UCSF Children's Hospital at our Parnassus location.

Information about our adult Diabetes Clinic is available by calling (415) 353-2497 at our Parnassus location or (415) 885-3868 at our Mount Zion location.

For help finding a doctor, please contact the Physician Referral Service at (888) 689-UCSF or at referral.center@ucsfmedctr.org.