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Helmsley and JDRF Fund New Encapsulation Program at DRI

August 20th, 2012

This week saw an announcement that JDRF and the Helmsley Trust will jointly fund a $4.8 million effort to develop an islet encapsulation system at the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) of the University of Miami. This is an interesting development and something of a welcome surprise. The implications for our work on the Islet Sheet are quite positive.

I always welcome JDRF showing an interest in encapsulation. As I have said many times, I believe that encapsulated islets will be as close to a cure as we will get in my lifetime. Historically JDRF has been skeptical of this approach, and in my opinion has vastly underfunded islet encapsulation compared with its support of the artificial pancreas. JDRF is a charity whose stated goal is curing the disease. So this is most welcome.

The Helmsley Trust has a program focused on type 1 diabetes. Helmsley is a large donor to the JDRF, maybe the largest. The trust’s “Program Officer Type 1 Diabetes Program” is Gina Agiostratidou. A few  months ago, Hanuman Medical Foundation Executive Director John Golenski and I met with Ms. Agiostratidou in New York. We were impressed by her knowledge of diabetes and islet transplantation/encapsulation, and look forward to a continuing conversation with her on Islet Sheet research.

The larger meaning here is that major donors are becoming more assertive in directing their funds toward the goal of making JDRF more  productive, as Helmsley does. This important initiative on behalf of donors is being spearheaded by JDCA, which provides donors with analyses of how effective diabetes charities are. I hope the example of the Helmsley Trust encourages other major JDRF donors to make similar moves to improve the productivity of diabetes research.

Finally, this signals a sea change at DRI, which formerly had been lukewarm on islet encapsulation. Its scientific director, Camillo Ricordi, is a major figure in type 1 diabetes research, arguably the premier researcher; I have heard other islet researchers jokingly call him “The Pope.” Dr. Ricordi’s endorsement of the encapsulated islet approach is an endorsement of our approach with the Islet Sheet. As the figure below suggests, he is even echoing our long-time emphasis on oxygen availability as the key issue for islet functionality.

Encapsulation figure: DRI

DRI and Dr. Ricordi have shown an admirable willingness to collaborate with others over the years. I know he is an admirer of our associate Jonathan Lakey’s islet research, and our large- animal studies under Lakey’s supervision at UC Irvine are going well. I would not be surprised if we soon found ourselves in Miami confirming the Irvine results. (Confirmation in another laboratory is an important element of the scientific process.) Perhaps some of this Helmsley-JDRF funding will help fund a DRI collaboration on the Islet Sheet.

Current Research, Diabetes Technology.
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5 Responses to “Helmsley and JDRF Fund New Encapsulation Program at DRI”

  1. Brian Braxton says:

    I sure hope so. While I know it will take several more years for this to be available. I sure hold out hope for this to be able to “cure” my daughter. I just wish more funding had been sent to you company a while ago.

  2. Mike Barton says:

    Great, great news. Seems to seriously bolster… I see the artificial pancreas — however welcome and needed — as incremental.

  3. Brian L Braxton says:

    I hear some many people say the AP. Do they realize it has not been through large clinical trials. It has not been tested out side of a controlled environment. It will not be as effective as encapsulation. Because it will still need human intervention. Basically the AP will probably fail in the real world. One more thing Big Pharma gave up on the AP. What does this tell you?

    • Scott King says:

      Brian, the AP has a useful role namely pump interrupt at night if BG goes low. That indication is already approved in Europe and is saving lives from “dead in bed” syndrome.

      AP for daytime when you eat, not so much. As my friend Dr. Andrew Drexler says, “I recommend the AP for all my patients who never eat.”

  4. John says:

    The JDRF has been negligent in funding real “cure” research. Its a teavesty that hey group “prevention” with “cure” research. Ask Polio victims if they’re cured? The AP is laughable, Medtronic donates $250k per year to JDRF so it’s no wonder they are pimping the pump. I find it hard to get excited for any research until it actually makes it to human clinical trials. Otherwise, these are just headlines fishing for dollars. Type 1 is stuck in the mud experimenting on mice so the dollars keep flowing. The DRI and Dr. Ricordi are like all the others. Stuck in the mud!

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