The 20th Anniversary of the Edmonton Protocol

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This day, 20 years ago, a person with type 1 diabetes (T1D) was cured. Well, pseudo-cured. On March 11, 1999, the Edmonton Protocol had its first participant. This ground-breaking clinical trial was testing a new type of islet transplantation, without corticosteroid immunosuppressive drugs (which is necessary for the prevention of graft rejection). The seven people who received the transplantation in the first year “remained free of the need for exogenous insulin,” according to the publication when it was printed in The New England Journal of Medicine on July 27, 2000.

Nobody had heard of seven people with T1D being insulin-independent for an average of 12 months. It was a landmark clinical trial, and a major advancement in islet transplantation. It marks its 20th anniversary today.

JDRF’s Role: In collaboration with the Medical Research Council of Canada, JDRF funded the preclinical studies that led to the Edmonton Protocol. We also established nine JDRF Human Islet Distribution Programs in 1998. Among them was the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, which provided the islet cells for Edmonton.

Over the next year, we will do interviews with the people involved—both the people who benefitted from this amazing work and the scientists who made this available to individuals. This includes James Shapiro, M.D., Ph.D., who finalized and conducted the initial Edmonton Protocol clinical trial, at the University of Alberta. (The protocol is named for the islet transplantation group at the University of Alberta in the Canadian city of Edmonton, where the protocol was first devised in the late 1990s.)

While beta cell replacement therapy is still a ways away for most people with T1D, we at JDRF are building on the Edmonton Protocol. We aim to provide people with beta cell therapy, unlike that of beta cell transplantation, that does not need immunosuppression, with unlimited cell sources, to make it available to everyone who wants it. Read more about it here and stay tuned for more to come!