Dr. Hongjun Wang of the Medical University of South Carolina's Department of Surgery will lead a team of researchers as they work toward better therapies for chronic pancreatitis - and possibly a cure for type 1 diabetes.
Wang's team's research is being funded through a $1.68 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.
The new research will focus on islet cell - the small cells in the pancreas that produce insulin - transplantation.
"The goal is to lessen the number of patients who are diabetic at the end of one year," Wang said. "Through studies like this, the investigators seek to understand how AAT (alpha-1-antitrypsin, a blood component that breaks down infection-fighting enzymes) works in the body to lessen cellular stress."
AAT is used frequently as an emphysema therapy.
"The islet autotransplantation model offers a unique opportunity to assess the direct effect of AAT on human islets in the absence of an immune response," Wang said. "While much of the work associated with AAT has been directed at lung and liver disease, it may help in the treatment of other diseases, including chronic pancreatitis, which can be incredibly painful."
A duct in the pancreas gland connects it to the intestines; the pancreas produces many of the enzymes necessary for food digestion. Chronic pancreatitis is marked by inflammation of the pancreas gland; the condition can cause scarring of the duct in the pancreas, which can lead to it having to be removed surgically.
"But the surgery creates problems, too," Wang said. "It means all of the patient's islet cells also are removed, taking away the patient's insulin and making the patient diabetic, which creates other lifelong complications."
Wang and her team are anxious to start their new research.
"We are excited to be at the cutting edge of translating basic science research into clinical outcomes that will change the way we treat not only patients who suffer from chronic pancreatitis but eventually patients with type 1 diabetes," she said. "Just imagine a day when people with type 1 diabetes no longer need to take their insulin. That's the future. That's the direction we are going."
Researchers receive $1.68 million grant to work toward new therapies for pancreatitis
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