Irish-led consortium receives €8.9m for diabetes research

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DRIVE to create 13 jobs, reduce need for organ donations

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20 May 2015 | 0

A research consortium headed up by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and the Advanced Materials for Bioengineering Research (AMBER) looking for new treatments for diabetes has been awarded €8.9 million from the EU’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Framework Programme.

The DRIVE (Diabetes Reversing Implants with enhanced Viability and long-term Efficacy) consortium involves 14 partners from seven European countries and will create 13 jobs in Ireland.

The Consortium is an interdisciplinary effort between stem cell biologists, experts in advanced drug delivery, research scientists, clinicians and companies working together to develop therapeutics to address the challenges of treating diabetes. The researchers will optimise adult stem cell therapy using smart biomaterials and advanced drug delivery, and couple these therapeutics with minimally-invasive surgical devices.

Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease characterised by high blood sugar (glucose). If not treated carefully, diabetes causes several debilitating side effects including heart disease, damage to the eyes, kidneys and nerve endings (eg hands, feet) and can lead to premature death. The total number of people living with diabetes in Ireland is estimated to be over 225,000.

Blood glucose is high in diabetes because of the inability of the pancreas to produce sufficient insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar. Currently the main treatment for diabetes is the daily injection of insulin. In patients where control is poor, transplantation of pancreatic cells (which contain insulin-producing β-cells) is possible. However there are challenges with this therapy including the short supply of donor pancreases, the need to use up to four pancreases to get enough β-cells for treatment and poor graft survival and retention at the transplant site.

Donors
The DRIVE consortium will address these challenges by developing a system to deliver pancreatic β-cells in a targeted and protected fashion. This will mean fewer donor pancreases will be needed for cell transplantation, allowing more patients to avail of a more effective and longer-lasting treatment with less demand on donors.  Additionally, the consortium will investigate the combination of DRIVE’s technology with future stem cell-derived β-cells that will widen the availability of islet transplantation therapy to all insulin-dependent patients.

Dr Duffy explained: “Regenerative medicine and stem cell therapies have the potential to revolutionise the treatment of patients who have diabetes, and through DRIVE we will develop new technologies to enhance stem cell therapies for these patients by increasing targeting and ease of delivery using advanced biomaterials.”

DRIVE’s β-System consists of a β-Gel, which contains the pancreatic β-cells within a pancreas mimicking gel; which itself is protected within a capsule called a β-shell. This is delivered using a specialised injection catheter, called β-cath, which offers a more minimally invasive surgical procedure than is currently used. Boston Scientific are working with RCSI on the new surgical procedure.

The current transplantation technique offers patients natural glucose control for up to two years. DRIVE’s β-system aims to provide control for up to five years by increasing the longevity of the β-cell transplant. The system offers further advantages through the slow release of immunosuppressant drugs by the β-shell, reducing the patient’s need for long-term anti-rejection medication, which has harmful side effects. The β-shell will also be retrievable, so it can be removed and replenished after the five-year period. DRIVE’s plan will include laboratory testing, with a view to human testing at the end of the project.

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