Young Medical Biotechnologist attends Keystone symposium on “Emerging concepts and targets in islet biology”

Dr. Ensiyeh Hajizadeh, a medical doctor and PhD student of Medical Biotechnology is currently working on the Beta-cell research program at the Royan Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Technology in Tehran, Iran. He recently attended a symposium on islet biology in Colorado.

Thanks to the generous travel grant from the Simon Wolff Charitable Foundation I was able to attend the Keystone symposium on “Emerging concepts and targets in islet biology” which was held on 6-11 April 2014 in Keystone, Colorado. This symposium was organized by Rohit N. Kulkarni, Raghavendra G. Mirmira and Eckhard Lammert as a premier meeting seeking new drugs and targets for treatment of diabetes mellitus.

Diabetes mellitus is considered as a global health concern with more than 371 million diabetic patients in 2012 and increasing worldwide incidence of 3% per year. Type I diabetic patients have to inject insulin under their skin one or more times a day, although it is not a cure, and their disease progresses anyway with a list of whole body chronic complications.

Cell therapy approaches are new promising therapy for type I diabetic patients. Among these transplantation of pancreatic islets has emerged as a successful approach because of existence of Beta cells inside the islets which could secrete insulin more naturally and physiologically in response to blood glucose levels. Despite marked improvements achieved by new protocols of islet transplantation, leading to a higher success rate of clinical islet transplantation, graft function progressively declines, with only 44% of recipients free from insulin injection after 3 years of transplantation. One of the important reasons is the loss of functional islets during first two weeks after transplantation because of islet blood insufficiency. So, it would be really helpful if some methods could enhance transplanted islet blood vessels in the first two weeks of transplantation.

In view of this main problem, in my project I have transplanted pancreatic islets with human Mesenchymal Stem Cells engineered to have transient inducible expression of a chemical promoting blood vessel formation, called Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) in a well-suited hydrogel. Secretion of this chemical from the engineered cells could induce the migration of some kind of cells which are necessary for new blood vessel formation. This project has aimed to augment formation of new blood vessels in transplanted islets and avoid their loss in first two weeks after transplantation.

At the Keystone congress, I had this opportunity to present my project to other researchers who worked in the same area and got some ideas to improve it, beside creating new collaborations which will help us to share our ideas and set up collaborative projects in future. Also I participated in a workshop related to procurement of pancreases for isolation of islets to evaluate clinical problems of islet isolation and transplantation and possible solutions which may help to increase the amount of islets isolated from each donor pancreas.

The travel grant from the SWCF helped me to achieve valuable experiences in the field of islet transplantation and I am sure that this kind of generous donations could finally lead to real improvements in treatment of diabetic patients and get them free from the difficulties of daily insulin injection and chronic complications of the disease.

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