The DRIVE (Diabetes Reversing Implants with enhanced Viability and long-term Efficacy) consortium met recently in Venice Italy for its second general assembly to discuss progress, challenges and plans going forward for achieving their goal of improved Diabetes treatment.
Diabetes type 1 is a chronic condition characterised by loss of insulin-producing pancreatic β-cells and an inability by the body to use glucose. It presents most commonly in childhood / adolescence and leads to chronically high blood glucose and a host of debilitating health conditions which are life-threatening and life-limiting.
Diabetes and stem cell scientists from the National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology (NICB), Dublin City University (DCU) and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), are investigating cell-based approaches to improve the efficacy of islet cell transplantation. This important research is being performed under DRIVE, a pan-European research project involving partner groups from Ireland, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic, Germany and the Netherlands and is funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. The DRIVE consortium, led by Dr. Garry Duffy, RCSI, brings together a multidisciplinary team of stem and β-cell biologists, transplant clinicians, biomaterials and drug delivery experts to develop a smart-cell and biomaterial based therapy and which may be used to improve the treatment options and quality of life for those suffering the most severe forms of Diabetes.
NICB Research Fellows Dr. Clair Gallagher and Dr. Laura Breen are working with NICB Associate Director, Dr. Finbarr O’Sullivan and Professor Martin Clynes to develop new living-donor-based sources of insulin-producing cells which may be used in place of donor tissue. Effective donor islet treatments have been developed, however many more patients whose lives could be transformed continue to suffer as these precious cells are not available. DRIVE also aims to honour those people and their families who have made the difficult decision to donate islets by developing a device that prolongs the lifetime and function of transplanted β-cell containing islets.
Researchers across all DRIVE disciplines recently met in beautiful Venice, Italy to discuss experimental results, progress, challenges and strategies facing DRIVE. All attendees congregated early Monday morning on the shores of the Venetian Lagoon to take the short and scenic boat ride to San Servolo island where the DRIVE general assembly took place over two days. The meeting opened energetically with a masterclass in science communication and dissemination; this session offered practical advice and strategies to allow researchers to communicate the DRIVE message to scientific, health-care, corporate and lay audiences alike. Then the scientific and clinical discourse really began as members presented experimental results and debated future avenues which may be advanced. There was lots of enthusiastic discussion and cross-disciplinary groups worked well together to communicate issues which must be tackled in order for DRIVEs potential to be realised.
We were fortunate to be joined by Prof. Paul Johnson, director of the Oxford Islet Tranplant Programme and Dr. Federico Bertuzzi, Director of Milan’s Ospedale Niguarda Ca'Granda, Islet Transplant Program who advocated for patient needs and provided invaluable clinical perspectives and advice. Teams from Dublin City University, Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, University of Oxford and Contipro discussed generation and performance of insulin producing cells in alternate gel formulations while members from Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, University College Dublin and Abdiel Biotech, discussed methods used for successful isolation and incorporation of islets in the gel. In addition to cell biology and gel-based considerations; groups from University College Dublin and Boston Scientific discussed the DRIVE shell characteristics and showed prototype encapsulation devices.
In the evenings we walked around the beautiful Venetian city streets where we enjoyed the sights and sounds of the city including singing gondaleers. Our host Dr. Davide De Lucrezia (CEO Explora Biotech) arranged dinner at Venetian eateries, where we sampled local dishes and delicacies including Castraure, a local artichoke bud cut from the first floral shoot. There were lots more scientific discussions during dinner and late into the night as partner groups discussed strategies for achieving DRIVE’s aims going forward
After a successful meeting in Venice, we travelled home with renewed vigour to begin the next phase of our work towards diabetes reversal with DRIVE.