BOSTON, MA (June 8, 2017) – Researchers and clinicians at Joslin Diabetes Center have established a Center for Cell-Based Therapy for Diabetes (CCTD), the goal of which is to lead the development and translation of cell-based interventions to treat and cure diabetes and its complications. This opportunity has been created by recent groundbreaking discoveries in converting stem cells into functional insulin-producing beta cells, the identification of new growth factors that stimulate beta cell regeneration, novel insights on improving treatments of diabetic complications, and evolving technologies for detection, modulation and protection against the immune responses. 

A major part of CCTD, led by its interim director Dr. Gordon Weir, is the participation and coordination of program activities with the Boston Autologous Islet Replacement Therapy (BAIRT) program. This large consortium consists of Joslin, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Semma Therapeutics. BAIRT aims to perform autologous stem cell derivation to clinical-grade beta cells that can provide personalized therapy for people with diabetes. The program is expected to provide the clinical proof of principle that such a stem cell therapy will be safe and effective in regulating blood sugar levels. “We hope the collaboration of these leading Boston institutions with Joslin will soon result in the first demonstration of using patients’ own cells to correct diabetes,” said Dr. Weir.

Complementing this work are recent advances at Joslin identifying new islet growth in patients with long-standing type 1 diabetes, as well as identifying potential islet growth factors, which occur in situations of insulin resistance, that could be used to stimulate the growth of the patient’s own beta cells. Additional early stage research is also ripe for further development at CCTD. 

Findings from Dr. George King’s laboratory at Joslin point to novel pathways to treat skin fibroblasts from diabetes patients to improve wound healing. Discussions with collaborating partners at BWH and Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital are underway to translate the findings into viable therapeutic approaches. CCTD is also planning stem cell-based research for diabetic eye disease, for which a variety of stem cell-based therapies have been evaluated in clinical trials. “There have been substantial advances made in stem cell research and regenerative medicine,” said Dr. King, Chief Scientific Officer at Joslin. “We would like to harness the potential of cell therapy to treat and reverse diabetes and its complications.”  

Regardless of the targeted organ for cell replacement or regeneration, the shared challenges in cell therapies for diabetes such as transplant procedure and immune rejection will be well- served by the collective expertise within CCTD. Other researchers at Joslin are conducting large scale genetic screening for novel therapeutic targets to control autoimmunity, which will complement the effort of BAIRT to extend autologous beta cell replacement to patients with type 1 diabetes. 

“Joslin has a long history of providing cutting-edge diabetes clinical care and research,” said Dr. Peter Amenta, President and CEO of Joslin Diabetes Center. “With the addition of the CCTD, Joslin will continue to accelerate the rate of diabetes research and its ability to benefit patients as early as possible.”