Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the Fall 2013 edition of the University of Minnesota Foundation e-publication Discoveries in Diabetes and was written by Karin Miller.
Research collaborators working with the University of Minnesota and University of Arizona embarked on a unique experiment in August. A donor pancreas, chaperoned by a graduate student, was flown by commercial jet from Minneapolis to Tucson, Arizona. The goal: to see if a new organ preservation technique could extend the life of the donor pancreas. It did.
Generally, a donor pancreas must get from its origination city to its destination—sometimes across the country—in just eight hours to be suitable for transplantation. After that, the organ has spent too much time without oxygen to be used. But a new oxygen preservation technology developed by U adjunct professor Klearchos Papas, Ph.D., in collaboration with Giner Inc., would extend the life of this organ up to 24 hours.
With this technology, Papas estimates that the percentage of usable pancreas organs could jump from 42 percent to 60 or 70 percent. The better-preserved pancreases will result in higher quality islet cells as well, he says, increasing the number of people who could become insulin independent with a first pancreas transplant.
But because the donor organ supply is inadequate to meet current demands, Papas and U imaging expert Mike Garwood, Ph.D., are working towards the goal of creating an artificial, implantable pancreas, where human, pig, or stem cell islets could be implanted and protected, meeting the needs of people with type 1 diabetes. This work is championed by the Schott Foundation, which made a recent gift of $100,000 to fund it—bringing its historic U diabetes research support to more than $385,000.