PDRC associate professor Maike Sander, M.D. has been awarded nearly $5 million by the Beta Cell Biology Consortium (BCBC) to lead an interdisciplinary team in cell therapy research for type 1 diabetes.
Dr. Sander will lead a team of domestic and international collaborators. Their goal is to generate insulin-producing beta cells to replace beta cells lost through the autoimmune processes of type 1 diabetes. Ultimately, they aim to determine how to create beta cells from patients by inducing pluripotent stem cells from other parts of the body.
The $4,950,000 grant is shared with Karl Willert, Ph.D., who is director of the UC San Diego Human Stem Cell Core Facility. Additional participants include labs at the University of Pennsylvania and Barcelona, Spain, as well as a San Diego-based biotech company.
The major focus of Dr. Sander's current research is to understand what happens at the molecular level to make it possible for pluripotent stem cells to produce the different cell types of the pancreas. Specifically, she and her team want to be able to instruct patient-derived pluripotent stem cells to become beta cells.
Since the first pioneering work on islet transplantation, it has become clear that a cell-based approach for the treatment of type 1 diabetes can have significant benefits in terms of insulin independence and a reduced risk of hypoglycemia.
"Right now, scientists can create beta cell precursors from human embryonic stem cells. However, our goal is to take it a step further and make replacement beta cells from the patient's own tissue," says Dr. Sander. "This grant is a perfect example of collaboration and translational medicine for a greater cause. It's not about who discovers the cure first. It's about finding a cure - fast."