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Windfall for Diabetes Research

A private foundation has donated nearly $20 million to Harvard Medical School to fund research that they hope will lead to a cure for juvenile diabetes. The Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International (JDF) and Harvard announced today the creation of a center dedicated to finding an effective way to replace the insulin-producing islet cells in the pancreas that the body's own immune system destroys in the debilitating disease, which afflicts an estimated 700,000 people in the United States.

Researchers have had some success in transplanting islet cells, but recipients require heavy doses of immune suppression. This doesn't work in children, says Harvard immunologist Laurie Glimcher, who helped spark the idea for the center and will be an associate director. The JDF Center for Islet Cell Transplantation will fund 32 researchers to focus on four main goals: Reversing the overactive immune response that kills islet cells; finding new sources for islet cell transplants, such as pigs or genetically engineered cells; persuading the body to accept the transplanted cells without immunosuppressive drugs that often trigger worse side effects than the disease; and overcoming the technical difficulties of transplantation.

The new center is "definitely a good initiative," says Camillo Ricordi, scientific director of the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami in Florida. "It will bring more investigators to our field," he says. Glimcher says the center should have animal trials of transplants without immunosuppression underway within a year, with hopes for human trials in 3 years.