Meeting of the Minds: JDRF Fall Beta Cell Replacement Consortium Convenes

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The JDRF Beta Cell Replacement Consortium meeting, held last week in NYC, was an opportunity for the top minds in the field of beta cell replacement to meet and share ideas and progress. On the docket at the meeting were discussions surrounding key research factors such as the source of cell supply, the advancement of cell delivery systems and optimal implantation sites. More than 60 researchers and scientists gathered to discuss progress in the field, an increase from May’s meeting.

Cherie Stabler, Ph.D., professor and associate chair for graduate studies in the department of biomedical engineering at the University of Florida, said that one of the consortium’s strengths is that JDRF sees the whole picture when it comes to tackling the challenges that type 1 diabetes (T1D) creates. That includes such factors as the regulatory framework and also the communication of progress to the community. Stabler says JDRF chooses to fund researchers who eschew isolation, and that collaborative inclination is important at the consortium.

“People show confidential data. They share the challenges, the obstacles, and that’s really how you learn. You learn through failure,” said Dr. Stabler. “That’s research. You bang your head against the wall for a long time and then you find a way around it, and show the results at work.”

Stabler cites the omentum, an apron-like fold of healing tissue that surrounds many of the organs in the abdomen, as a promising transplantation site for insulin production. And she believes that human stem cell-derived sources and other sources are moving forward as options for replacing beta cells. “From the stem cell side, there have been major advancements in getting cells that respond to glucose like beta cells, and growing those cells in ways in which they look like islets.”

The academic side is only part of the equation necessary to solve beta cell replacement. Louise Winkel, Ph.D., department manager at Novo Nordisk, claims that the consortium lets researchers know what the commercial side needs in order to advance treatments for people with T1D, and also helps the company determine how it best wants to support the search for T1D solutions. “Diabetes is the most difficult disease to create stem cells for. You need a tremendous amount of cells compared to other diseases like Parkinson’s or eye disease.”

The meetings have helped Winkel change the way her company views diabetes research and product development. “This consortium has equipped me with the tools to explain to the company that there is no such thing as a home-run. It is an incremental process. We need to go out and share.”

That sharing is what Esther Latres, Ph.D., director of the beta cell replacement program at JDRF, says drives research forward. “Our roundtable discussions are where we focus on the gaps and the challenges, what JDRF can provide in addition to funding.” For more about what JDRF is doing in beta cell replacement research, go here.

By Joseph Levit