Understanding T1D through Organ Donation

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In 2007, JDRF awarded a grant for more than $7 million to Mark Atkinson, Ph.D., at the University of Florida to a unique, first of its kind biorepository for tissues of type 1 diabetes (T1D) including those at risk of the disease and their relatives as a pilot program. In this brief video, Dr. Atkinson will provide an update on the progress of the Network for Pancreatic Organ Donors with Diabetes (nPOD).

Historically, T1D research was conducted using pancreatic tissue from mice and very rarely from the cadavers of people with symptomatic T1D, because only a few researchers had access to human pancreatic tissue. Yet, researchers observed significant differences between the human and murine islets and their immune systems. JDRF wanted to push the community to understand human T1D and called for the establishment of a human pancreatic tissue bank to better understand the cause and effect of T1D. nPOD was first established as a demonstration project to collect pancreata and other tissues affected by T1D, including: lymph nodes, spleen, thymus glands and blood. Researchers hoped to derive insight for better treatments by studying these tissues.

Key findings

In less than a decade, nPOD has provided more than 140 research teams with tissues for T1D-related research and grown from 6 collaborating labs to 168 in 17 countries. With the success of the pilot program and continuation funding totaling $24.7 million support from JDRF, the partnership has empowered researchers to discover multiple findings. Some of the key findings include:

  • Many people with T1D have some retention of beta cells in their pancreata showing that not all beta cells are destroyed by the autoimmune process;
  • People with T1D and those who have autoantibodies but no symptomatic disease have significantly smaller pancreases than normal, a possible indicator of a pre-existing deficiency of beta cells;
  • People with pre-symptomatic autoantibodies do not exhibit rampant insulitis, suggesting that beta cell destruction in humans is intermittent; and
  • People may have more than one form of T1D, suggested by differing patterns of residual beta cells found in donor pancreases.

In addition to financial support, JDRF supplies nPOD with Ambassadors who volunteer across the country to increase organ procurement participation. “Our role is to expand the number of directed organ signups to more than 100,000 by presenting nPOD updates to the local JDRF chapters,” said Ambassador Roger Schorr. We have provided 140 research teams with tissues, who have enlightened us into the unknown causes, progression and potential cure for T1D.

Why it matters

According to Mr. Schorr, “I want a cure for my daughter. The study of human tissue has significantly expanded our understanding of the disease. With so many researchers wanting more tissue to study, it only makes sense for us to encourage donation. This is a real gift that we can leave for our children as it may be the most important way to understand and find a cure for type 1 diabetes.”