Tackling the Cell Supply Challenge Takes Center Stage in Spain as DRI’s Dr. Juan Dominguez-Bendala Discusses Potential Breakthroughs

(February 9, 2018) — The DRI’s reputation as a leader in translational research has reached across the Atlantic to several countries like Spain, where an ongoing student exchange program has given Dr. Juan Dominguez-Bendala, head of the cell supply and islet regeneration program, frequent opportunities to share his expertise. In January, Dr. Bendala made stops in both Madrid and Seville to speak to students in his home country – and others interested in a diabetes research – about some exciting progress.

He kicked off his trip at the University of Francisco de Vitoria in Spain’s capital city, where he was invited to host a four-hour seminar for medical students focused on translational medicine. He was later invited to speak in his hometown of Seville to provide a general overview of the DRI’s contributions to and next steps in developing a biological cure for type 1 diabetes.

DRI researchers have already shown that islet cell transplantation has the ability to restore natural insulin production in people with type 1 diabetes (T1D). However, the shortage of donor organs from which the islets are isolated, among other challenges, has limited the treatment to only the most severe cases of T1D. Dr. Bendala and his team are focused on finding alternative sources of islets to address the cell supply issue and have been making significant progress, especially most recently.

“One of the milestones that we have achieved over the past year is the characterization of a novel population of stem cells that we have found inside the human pancreas, and that we think we can potentially stimulate without the need for transplantation,” said Dr. Bendala. “We have analyzed these cells, we have found exactly where they live in the pancreas, and have submitted these results for publication.”

As previously published, the researchers used a naturally occurring protein, bone morphogenetic protein 7 (BMP-7), to demonstrate that those stem cells within the non-endocrine tissue in the pancreas can become new islets when cultured in a lab. In itself, that discovery could open the door to transplanting multiple patients from a single organ. However, additional observations about these pancreatic stem cells led the team to extensively test the ability to regenerate a patient’s own islets, eliminating the need for donor organs altogether.

Speaking to a very timely topic, Dr. Bendala also covered their work on another major breakthrough for the field – making the use of transplanted embryonic stem cells safer for patients.

“We are already witnessing the first human clinical trials with human embryonic stem cells and the potential for these cells to form tumors is something that has been acknowledged in the field. We are tackling this challenge by genetically engineering these cells to contain suicide genes that may get rid of tumors. We have shown that we can prevent altogether the formation of tumors that derive from human embryonic stem cells,” said Dr. Bendala.

The significant findings from both of these research studies were recently submitted for publication in peer-reviewed journals.

Dr. Dominguez-Bendala’s visit to Spain and research update also attracted the attention of several of the country’s major media outlets, which covered his talks extensively.

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Lori Weintraub, APR

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