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JDRF-funded researcher wins prestigious award at international diabetes conference

Professor Maike Sander was celebrated for her research on pancreatic islet cells at the recent EASD conference in Sweden.
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Kate Lawton 11 October 2022

Maike Sander

Professor Maike Sander, a JDRF-funded researcher, has won the prestigious Albert Renold Prize at the recent EASD (European Association for the Study of Diabetes) conference.

Professor Sander said: “It’s a true honour to be recognised with this prize. I have been fortunate to work with outstanding trainees who really deserve the credit. Thank you also to all collaborators for their creativity and generous contributions.”

The prize was awarded at the latest EASD conference, which saw around 12,000 diabetes researchers, advocates and healthcare workers congregate in Sweden to share brand new developments in the field.

The Albert Renold Prize

This coveted prize is awarded each year to one researcher for their ‘outstanding achievement’ in studying a group of cells called pancreatic islets, where insulin-producing beta cells are found.

Out of the 16 prizes awarded in total, 13 of those have gone to researchers who were funded by JDRF at some point in their career. This shows that JDRF consistently funds research that is internationally recognised as being the very best.

Professor Sander’s type 1 diabetes research

Professor Sander is currently based in California, but will soon move to Berlin, Germany. Her team grows beta cells from human stem cells, and she gave an update on their projects in her Award Lecture at EASD.

Lab-grown beta cells don’t function as well as real human beta cells, meaning they don’t release enough insulin in response to glucose. Professor Sander delved into their genetics to understand why.

Comparing lab-grown to donor beta cells

The researchers used stem cells to grow pancreatic islets containing beta cells and compared them to human pancreatic islets from donors. They discovered that they were making an immature version of human beta cells found in fetuses, known as fetal beta cells. So, the next step was to figure out how to get these cells to mature into functioning adult beta cells.

Maturing beta cells

Professor Sander’s team also noticed that stress pathways were more active in beta cells from donors. The research team thinks that mild stress may help beta cells mature. Their next task is to test whether this works, and we look forward to hearing their results.

Adding blood supply

Pancreatic islets receive a large supply of blood to provide them with the nutrients and oxygen they need. In contrast, beta cells in the lab are made without blood vessels. So, Professor Sander’s team worked with bioengineers to grow pancreatic islets alongside blood vessels on a chip.

When they tested these beta cells’ response to glucose, they found they functioned better than islets they had grown without a blood supply. This demonstrates to other researchers the need to grow beta cells with connecting blood vessels.

Mimicking what happens in type 1

The lab’s next project will involve taking samples of blood and stem cells from people with type 1 and growing these into beta cells and immune cells in the lab. They will use these to mimic the immune attack that occurs in type 1 to better understand how it could be prevented and treated.

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