The Islet Transplantation Group

2000 Winner: Outstanding Leadership In Alberta Science

The Islet Transplantation Group at the University of Alberta — Dr. Ray V. Rajotte, Dr. A.M. James Shapiro, Dr. Jonathan R.T. Lakey, Dr. Edmond Ryan, Dr. Gregory S. Korbutt, Dr. Norman M. Kneteman, and Dr. Garth L. Warnock — has made major inroads into treating a widespread, devastating disease and, in the process, has brought international attention to Edmonton.

Type 1 diabetics can never forget that they have a chronic illness. They must administer insulin shots several times each and every day, pay attention to their diets, exercise and frequently monitor their blood glucose levels to keep them within normal ranges to prevent complications associated with the disease. Even with such diligent efforts, diabetics are at a greater risk of kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage and blood vessel disease than non-diabetics, and can anticipate a life expectancy one-third less. Blood glucose is regulated by the hormone insulin, which is produced by cells clustered into islets throughout the pancreas. In diabetics, these cells do not produce insulin.

The Islet Transplantation Group developed a protocol for transplanting healthy islets into diabetics and restoring control of blood glucose without any further need of daily insulin injections. What’s more, this procedure is done on an outpatient basis with 40 per cent of the patients returning to work the next day. This protocol is now known internationally as the Edmonton Protocol and will be used by many centres around the world. Interest in this research has been overwhelming. Major TV networks in North America and in Europe have interviewed members of the team. At a recent American Diabetes Association meeting, Dr. Allen Spiegel, Head of the NIH Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, asked Dr. Rajotte for a copy of his slides to use for a presentation to the U.S. Congress.