Media Releases

Professor Michael Sefton receives $1.1 M award from JDRF to advance type 1 diabetes treatment research

October 13, 2016

Toron­to, ON –  Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to pro­fes­sor Michael Sefton (ChemE, IBBME) has been pre­sent­ed with a major research award from inter­na­tion­al dia­betes foun­da­tion JDRF to advance treat­ment research for type 1 dia­betes (T1D).

The fund­ing, val­ued at approx­i­mate­ly $1.1 mil­lion ($845,135 USD), sup­ports a three-year study at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Insti­tute of Bio­ma­te­ri­als & Bio­med­ical Engi­neer­ing (IBBME) to explore an exper­i­men­tal treat­ment that involves trans­plant­i­ng healthy pan­cre­at­ic cells into patients liv­ing with the dis­ease. Once suc­cess­ful­ly implant­ed, these cells can then pro­duce insulin to help reg­u­late blood glu­cose lev­els.

Though promis­ing, these cells — known as pan­cre­at­ic islet cells— are frag­ile, and cur­rent trans­plan­ta­tion sites such as the abdom­i­nal cav­i­ty and liv­er are “hos­tile” envi­ron­ments that can increase the like­li­hood of rejec­tion.

Sefton and his team are inves­ti­gat­ing whether trans­plant­i­ng islet cells under the skin will improve the cells’ sur­vival.

“The skin is a less hos­tile site for islets and has clin­i­cal advan­tages of being more acces­si­ble than cur­rent sites and pos­si­bly be even safer for patients,” said Sefton, who holds appoint­ments in U of T’s Depart­ment of Chem­i­cal Engi­neer­ing & Applied Chem­istry and IBBME. “How­ev­er, one of the chal­lenges of using the skin as a trans­plant site is that it has rel­a­tive­ly few blood ves­sels.”

Sefton, a world-renowned tis­sue engi­neer­ing pio­neer, plans to apply his team’s exper­tise to cre­at­ing a “‘pre-vas­cu­lar­ized” envi­ron­ment rich in blood ves­sels under the skin to ensure the sur­vival of the insulin-pro­duc­ing cells before trans­plan­ta­tion takes place.

“The goal is to enable islet cell trans­plan­ta­tion under the skin in a retriev­able, ‘device-less,’ phys­i­o­log­i­cal­ly inte­grat­ed, and scal­able implant site,” said Sefton. “The goal of this strat­e­gy is bet­ter con­trol of blood glu­cose and reduced com­pli­ca­tions, lead­ing to more wide­ly avail­able treat­ment for those liv­ing with this dis­ease.”

“Islet trans­plan­ta­tion is a promis­ing approach to treat­ment that also min­i­mizes the risk of seri­ous com­pli­ca­tions that affect those who live with T1D,” said Dave Prowten, pres­i­dent and CEO of JDRF Cana­da. “We are proud to sup­port Dr. Sefton and his team as they work to uncov­er new ways to make this treat­ment more read­i­ly avail­able for peo­ple liv­ing with T1D.”

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For more infor­ma­tion, con­tact:

Mar­it Mitchell
Com­mu­ni­ca­tions & Media Rela­tions Strate­gist
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Engi­neer­ing