My name is Bernhard Hering. I'm the scientific director of the Diabetes Institute for Immunology and Transplantation at the University of Minnesota. Type 1 diabetes is a crippling and relentless disease. It occurs in children and young adults, when the immune system mistakenly destroys all insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
The only way to cure type 1 diabetes is to replace or regenerate islets. Pancreas transplants have been shown to restore normal blood glucose control, reverse diabetes complications, improve quality of life, and increase life expectancy. Islet cell transplants, a much less invasive approach, have reversed diabetes in 90 percent of our recipients at the University of Minnesota.
To make islet transplants more vitally available, we will need to develop an unlimited supply of islet cells. Pig islets and stem cell-derived islets both hold great promise, but pig islets could provide a more short-term solution. We have recently shown long-term diabetes reversal after pig islet xenotransplantation in monkeys -- one step away from humans.
To avoid rejection with minimal or no immunosuppression, we are pursuing a novel, fundamentally different approach: we are developing (a) bioengineered, immune-privileged islet implantation site -- an islet sanctuary. Taken together, progress made in the past two years has been truly remarkable and suggests that pig islet xenotransplantation can be developed into a far-reaching cure for type 1 diabetes.