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First Seattle Patients Receive Islet Transplants Hits; Research Team Advances Diabetes Cure

SEATTLE — Jul. 30, 2002 — Clinical researchers have teamed together to perform the first human islet transplants in the Northwest. Three patients with type 1 diabetes received the transplanted islets, enabling them to produce their own insulin for the first time in decades. Such success, according to the Seattle team, helps confirm islet transplantation as a potential long-term cure for diabetes.

One of the recipients, a 35-year-old woman, was diagnosed with diabetes when she was fourteen. Another recipient, 41 years old now, has been diabetic since she was 7. She received a simultaneous kidney-islet transplant in a procedure the Seattle team is pioneering. The third patient, a 44-year-old man, also received a kidney-islet transplant.

All three patients have now achieved critical post-transplant success in the management of their blood-sugar levels. All are participating in the Seattle research program as part of an international evaluation of islet transplantation funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

In type 1 diabetes, insulin-producing cells, clustered together in what are called islets (pronounced "eye-lets"), are destroyed so that the body becomes insulin-deficient. When islets are transplanted from a donated pancreas, they take up residence in a recipient's liver and secrete insulin to reestablish normal control of the body's blood sugar metabolism.

The JDRF Center for Human Islet Transplantation in Seattle (HITS) is one of nine sites testing the islet-only transplant procedure pioneered by the University of Edmonton in Canada. In addition to testing the Edmonton procedure, the Seattle researchers are also conducting islet transplants in conjunction with routine kidney replacement operations for diabetes patients with kidney disease. Following both procedures, transplant patients take immunosuppressive drugs to protect the new islets from being rejected.

"This is the goal we've been heading toward for over three years now," says R. Paul Robertson, M.D., HITS Program Director and Scientific Director of the Pacific Northwest Research Institute. "Ever since Edmonton's success, we've known that islet transplantation can be effective. Now, as Edmonton's results are being duplicated, this treatment is moving toward becoming a real option for patients."

Richard Furlanetto, M.D., the Scientific Director of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), applauds HITS' success. "We at JDRF are pleased that HITS is duplicating Edmonton's protocol and extending this transplant to patients with kidney disease," Furlanetto says. "This significantly advances the science of islet transplantation and will allow patients who already have serious complications to benefit from the procedure."

The HITS consortium includes six Seattle hospitals and research institutions engaged in both clinical and basic transplantation research. The clinical sites are Virginia Mason Research Center, Swedish Medical Center, and the University of Washington Medical Center.

"The transplants we have now successfully completed are only the first of ten planned for this year," Robertson says. "But the new things we learn will move us forward in providing hope for the millions of diabetes patients who are still waiting for the cure to their disease."

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Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home of two Nobel Prize laureates, is an independent, nonprofit research institution dedicated to the development and advancement of biomedical technology to eliminate cancer and other potentially fatal diseases. Fred Hutchinson receives more funding from the National Institutes of Health than any other independent U.S. research center. Recognized internationally for its pioneering work in bone-marrow transplantation, the center's four scientific divisions collaborate to form a unique environment for conducting basic and applied science. Fred Hutchinson, in collaboration with its clinical and research partners, the University of Washington Academic Medical Center and Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center, is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in the Pacific Northwest and is one of 38 nationwide. For more information, visit the center's Web site at