Congratulations to Megan Sykes, MD, the Director of the Center for Translational Immunology at Columbia University Medical Center who recently received a grant from the Frederick Banting Foundation, which funds researchers who are “working to cure or improve the lives of those with juvenile diabetes.”
The Banting grant is aimed at taking Dr. Sykes’ approach to achieving immune tolerance to pancreatic islet cell transplants in recipients with type 1 diabetes one step closer to human trials. This approach to transplant tolerance has already proven to be effective in animal models of type 1 diabetes, and this grant will allow Dr. Sykes and her team to test these same strategies in large animals.
“Ultimately in the future our goal is to induce immune tolerance to make islet transplantation safe and effective in people without the need for immune suppressing drugs—and reverse their type 1 diabetes,“ said Dr. Sykes. “Our work with large animals is an important next step for getting to trials in human subjects.
Dr. Sykes strategy involves transplanting both pancreatic insulin-producing beta cells, as well as bone marrow cells, from the same organ donor into a recipient with type 1 diabetes. A state of “mixed chimerism” is created: this is a state of peaceful coexistence between the donor’s insulin-producing cells and the recipient’s immune system so that the beta cells are not rejected, without using immune suppressing drugs. Dr. Sykes' laboratory has obtained evidence in a mouse type 1 diabetes model that this state of mixed chimerism also re-educates the immune system to reverse the autoimmune attack on the new beta cells and, as a result, help prevent relapse of type 1 diabetes in the transplanted beta cells.
The protocol for achieving mixed chimerism in large animals is being modified from the strategy Dr. Sykes helped develop at the Harvard Medical School (where she was a faculty member for 19 years before coming to Columbia in 2010) for its renal transplant program. The grant will allow Dr. Sykes to complete three islet transplants a year.
“These studies are more costly to complete than any other type,” Dr. Sykes says, “and the NIH funding environment is so tight right now, that very little money goes into large animal, preclinical work—which is why it’s so important to have this foundation grant. We are grateful for this opportunity to further our research.”
The Banting Foundation was founded in 2011 by a group of venture capital investors interested in the philanthropic support of type 1 diabetes research. Named for Sir Frederick G. Banting, the Canadian researcher and winner of the 1923 Nobel Prize for the discovery of insulin, the foundation uses a “venture philanthropy” approach when it picks the projects to fund—which are often as unique as the fund itself.