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Areas of Research

Areas of Research

Researchers at the institute are developing several cellular and biologic therapies to prevent and treat type 1 and type 2 diabetes, as well as to prevent the rejection of transplanted tissues and organs.

Among the therapies that are in various stages of development:

  • Autologous tolerogenic dendritic cell therapy for type 1 diabetes, where a special population of white blood cells, expanded from the blood of the patients themselves, is given back to them to reset their immune system in order to limit or completely stop the autoimmune attack against their own insulin-producing cells of the pancreas.
  • Tolerogenic nanoparticle vaccines for type 1 diabetes to reprogram white blood cells inside a patient so that the autoimmune destruction of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas is prevented or shut down.
  • Engineered thymic cell mini-organoids, which reconfigure the population of T-cells into a new state, which re-establishes the immune system of the patient with an autoimmune disease to interact normally, and not reject the disease target organ. A reconstructed “hybrid” thymus is also opening up the possibility of recognizing foreign tissue and organ transplants as “self,” reducing or totally eliminating the need for immunosuppression.
  • Inflammation-sensitive nanoparticles that release immunosuppressive drugs and biologics useful to control and suppress autoimmunity, selectively inside the region of active inflammation, and eliminate the bystander and systemic side effects.
  • Modulators of rapid-onset and innate immunity inserted as transgenes into the donor tissues to prevent the destructive early rejection processes involved in xeno-transplantation (the transplant into humans of non-human tissues and organs) in order to increase the likelihood of success of conventional immunosuppressive treatment.
  • Neutrophil-modifying bio-agents to prevent the inflammation that underlies metabolic syndromes, which lead to uncontrolled blood glucose, with type 2 diabetes as the primary disease target.

 

Massimo Trucco, MD, and his team, based on earlier and extensive studies in animals and in an early clinical trial conducted in human type 1 diabetics, is poised to test the efficacy of their experimental autologous tolerogenic dendritic cell vaccine in newly diagnosed patients. The team anticipates support from National Institutes of Health.

Also, researchers at the Institute have been working with partners at the Cleveland Clinic (my.clevelandclinic.org) to expand the use of therapeutic insulin-producing cell transplants following removal of the entire pancreas as a more effective treatment for chronic pancreatitis. Surgeons remove the diseased pancreas from a patient in Cleveland and transport it to a specially-designed laboratory in the institute at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.

Here, the team isolates the cell clusters (islets) in the pancreas that produce insulin, purifies them, and returns them to Cleveland, where the islets are transplanted back into the patient’s liver. So far, the team has performed more than 100 procedures.

Dr. Trucco aims to integrate the entire procedure inside Allegheny General Hospital¬, from surgical removal of the pancreas to the islet transplantation, thus allowing the hospital to become one of just a handful of hospitals across the country that safely and successfully conduct the procedure.

Dr. Trucco said of the institute’s work, “Allegheny Hospital is certainly more a hospital than an academic institution. I thought it could be the right place to concentrate my efforts on studying the etiology of diabetes with the scientific goal of being able to create clinical protocols useful to successfully reducing the symptoms and complications of people suffering from this disease. It’s the dream of an entire scientific life.”