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Treatment research project

Supplying researchers with pancreas samples from donors

The Human Islet Isolation Facility provides researchers with pancreas samples from donors with and without diabetes. We have been funding the centre since 2009.
Content last reviewed and updated: 17.08.2023

Professor Paul Johnson

The current funding is for Professor Paul Johnson and his team to continue to run the Human Islet Isolation Facility at the University of Oxford. Their goal is to supply 1 million pancreatic islets to research each year​.

What does the Human Islet Isolation Facility do?

The lab receives human bodies that have been donated to science and take out the pancreas. They then dissect the pancreas, taking slices of the whole pancreas as well as isolating islets within it. These isolations are performed within a state-of-the-art isolation facility.

Once the scientists have prepared the samples, they use a computer-based algorithm to distribute them across Europe. The system matches the characteristics of the samples available with the requirements of each research lab. This ensures fair allocation of islets and maximum efficiency by only offering researchers islets that are suitable for their experiments.

What are pancreatic islets?

Pancreatic islets are clusters of cells in the pancreas. They contain cells that make hormones, including the insulin-producing beta cells. All mammals have pancreatic islets, which are also called the Islets of Langerhans.

Why do researchers need pancreas samples?

Human islets are a vital resource for researchers investigating the causes of type 1 and those trying to develop new treatments and cures. Previously, a lot of research on islets has been carried out using animal cells. But we need to understand more about the biology of the human pancreas to find ways of treating and curing type 1. Our pancreases are tucked deep inside our bodies, so studying it in living people is very difficult. Studying human pancreas samples from organ donors can help fill the gaps in our knowledge and lay the foundations for future treatments and cures.

Samples from people with diabetes

Thanks to new initiatives to increase the quality and quantity of organ donations, the Human Islet Isolation Facility can now receive pancreases from donors with diabetes. This funding from JDRF will allow Professor Johnson’s team to supply their network of research labs with pancreas samples from donors both with and without diabetes. Including donors with diabetes will help researchers to investigate the causes of type 1, which remain largely unknown.

How does this project help people with type 1?

The centre provides islets and pancreas samples to many projects investigating type 1. These studies range from exploring the underlying biology of the immune attack on the beta cells to growing beta cells in the lab. Continuing to supply researchers with pancreas and islet samples allows more research that improves our understanding of type 1 and brings us closer to treatments and cures for the condition. Unravelling the causes of type 1 is crucial to preventing it and achieving our vision of a world without type 1.

Is JDRF funding any other research like this?

We fund lots of research projects that use pancreas and islet samples. Through the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge, we are funding Professor Sarah Richardson to study the immune system attack behind type 1. Sarah is studying pancreas samples from people with type 1 to find differences in how their immune system attacks and destroys beta cells.

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