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LGC applies novel imaging approach to diabetes treatment research

25 Oct 2011
Tags:  Biological

New research to apply novel 3D imaging to improve pancreatic islet transplantation in diabetes patients

LGC, the UK’s designated National Measurement Institute for chemical and bioanalytical measurement, in collaboration with academics, industrial partners and accredited laboratories, has developed a novel imaging technique to improve the success rate of pancreatic islet transplants for people with type 1 diabetes*.

Light microscopy is currently used to assess pancreatic islet cells prior to transplantation, but only provides basic measures of islet quality. LGC’s new 3D imaging based quality assessment procedure is looking to change this by providing high resolution quantitative information on the health of the islet cells identified for transplantation.

In people with type 1 diabetes, the beta cells in the pancreas are destroyed and no longer produce insulin. More than 250,000 of these individuals in the UK are dependent on multiple daily insulin injections or insulin pumps to restore stable glucose levels. Up to a third experience dangerous low glucose levels (severe hypoglycaemia) resulting in collapse without warning. These patients may benefit from pancreatic islet transplantation, a surgical procedure in which healthy cells from a donor pancreas are transplanted into a recipient. However, cells in the pancreatic islet are fragile, so it is important to ensure they are in good condition prior to transplantation.

LGC’s new 3D imaging approach enables rapid quantitative assessment of the health of the cells identified for transplantation. Using specialised fluorescent markers and laser scanning confocal microscopy, LGC scientists produce high resolution optical sections through each pancreatic islet which allows living, dying and dead cells to be identified. Software algorithms developed at LGC then process and reconstruct the information to create 3D profiles of the pancreatic islets. These profiles can help inform whether donor cells will yield a successful transplant.

LGC has been using this new method to create retrospective profiles of transplanted pancreatic islets and is now extending the application to clinical samples. Once validated, the imaging system will permit pre-transplant assessment of pancreatic islet quality, enabling appropriate selection of donor cells which have the highest chance of achieving a successful transplant. This in turn will improve the clinical outcome for patients with type 1 diabetes.

Dr Damian Marshall, Principal Scientist for cell biology at LGC, said “This novel tool offers the opportunity to improve the quality of life for a significant number of people suffering with diabetes. This could only be achieved through collaborative research bringing together specialist skills, resources and knowledge from across the whole of the UK.”

The pancreatic islet transplant programme is uniquely funded in the UK by the NHS following a bid coordinated by Prof James Shaw from Newcastle University on behalf of the UK Islet Transplant Consortium. It aims to improve clinical outcomes for patients and reduce the burden to the NHS of treatment for uncontrolled diabetes. The current work is focused around three of the UK clinical islet transplant centres in King’s College London, Newcastle upon Tyne and Edinburgh.

This research was funded by Regener8, and part funded by the UK National Measurement System.

- Ends -

Notes to editors

* There are more than 250,000 people diagnosed in the UK with type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes develops when the beta cells in the pancreas have been destroyed and the body is unable to produce any insulin. It is not fully understood why beta cells are destroyed. However, the most likely cause is the body having an abnormal reaction to the cells, which may be triggered by a virus or other infection. Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age but usually appears before the age of 40, and especially in childhood.

About Regener8

Regener8 is the translational centre for regenerative medicine which brings together the work of the North of England's top scientists with UK and international industry to advance the development of tools and technologies to accelerate therapies through to clinic.