JDRF Canada is pleased to support 4 new trainees in partnership with the Canadian Islet Research and Training Network

JDRF Canada is thrilled to continue a successful partnership with the Canadian Islet Research and Training Network (CIRTN) and announce a second cohort of co-funded trainees beginning in 2024.

CIRTN was established in 2020 as a world-class training and research network with joint contributions from the University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, University of Manitoba, Université de Montréal, Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montréal, and the University of Toronto and now includes 12 institutions from across Canada.  JDRF Canada has partnered with CIRTN to leverage funding to this network from the National Science and Engineering Research Council – Collaborative Research and Training Experience (NSERC-CREATE) program. See 2023 cohort trainees here.

Nerea Cuesta-Gomez, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

Supervisor: Greg Korbutt, University of Alberta

Improved b-cell engraftment and survival through graft localized therapeutic delivery systems.

Islet transplantation can reverse diabetes, however, approximately 60% of the cells die shortly after transplant. Limited donor supply in combination with the requirement of immunosuppression results in this approach being available to only about 10% of individuals living with type 1 diabetes (T1D). Therefore, approaches that increase islet survival and reduce the requirements of immunosuppression will make islet transplantation available to a broader T1D population. This research will use two therapeutic delivery systems, composed of biomaterials (polylactic-co-glycolic acid; PLGA), to enhance islet graft survival and function when transplanted into the subcutaneous site (under the skin). First, a bio-active scaffold will provide structural support to the transplanted islets and create a subcutaneous environment that facilitates their optimal functioning. Additionally, the delivery systems will release therapeutic substances in a controlled manner, targeting key factors that influence the success of islet transplantation. In this manner, we seek to enhance the survival and function of islets and improve overall transplantation outcomes.

Alejandro Schcolnik-Cabrera, MD/PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

Supervisor: Sue Tsai, University of Alberta

Early life determinants of T1D progression – viewed from the lens of the gut-pancreas axis

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune condition where T cells attack the pancreatic insulin-producing cells. This disease is associated with metabolic alterations related to gut microbiota, which is modulated by early exposure to maternal factors such as breast milk. Interestingly, breast milk is an important source of immunoglobulin A, which maintains microbiota homeostasis. In this project, we will identify the roles of IgA and other metabolites found in breast milk in the gut immune and metabolic pathways, trying to dissect how they regulate microbiota and T1D. We expect to predict key pathways related to slow vs fast progressing T1D individuals, with the use of endoscopy colon biopsies, RNA sequencing and machine learning algorithms. 

Youngmin Song

PhD Student

Supervisor: Cristina Nostro, University of Toronto

Enhancing stem cell-derived islet replacement therapies for treating type 1 diabetes by the co-transplantation of islet cells and macrophages

Islet-like cells can be generated in vitro from human pluripotent stem cells and can be a potential alternative for cadaver pancreases in transplantation therapies for T1D patients. Clinical trials using stem cell-derived pancreatic cells have been initiated and provide proof of principle that this approach is viable. However, improving tissue engraftment and preventing rejection to ensure long-term graft functionality remain issues for both deceased donor- and stem cell-derived islets. This project will explore ways that stem cell-derived macrophages, a type of innate immune cell with many diverse functions, can be used to improve stem cell-derived islet cell transplantation. 

Jia Zhao

Postdoctoral Fellow

Supervisor: Tim Kieffer, University of British Columbia

Modelling human pancreas diseases with a novel stem cell derived islet spheroid system

With breakthroughs in uncovering the process by which islet cells develop naturally in the body, it is now possible to reproduce many steps of this process in the laboratory with cultured stem cells, culminating in insulin producing islets. This research will further enhance current islet cell manufacturing approaches by incorporating a defined morphogenesis that occurs during normal islet development. In this manner, we can establish an experimental and biomimetic human islet model from stem cells in a dish. This new model system will then be used as a platform to facilitate studies to explain pancreas disease mechanisms and test new therapies to promote islet (re)generation.

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