By Janice Sowinski and Darrin S. Joy
Joyce C. Niland
With the public health threat of diabetes accelerating both in the U.S. and abroad, scientists are feverishly seeking new insights into causes of the disease and potential cures. Joyce C. Niland, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Information Sciences at City of Hope, has been awarded a five-year, $15 million grant from the NIH to help ensure these researchers get the cells they need.
The award will support the Data Coordinating Center for the Integrated Islet Distribution Program, which distributes high-quality human islets to researchers throughout the world. Niland, who holds the Edward and Estelle Alexander Chair in Information Sciences, is project director for the program and led the creation of the Data Coordinating Center.
What are islets?
Islets are clusters of cells found in the pancreas that produce insulin, the hormone the body needs to regulate blood sugar. In diabetes, islets break down or become faulty, leading sugar to build up in the body and cause heart damage, kidney disease and other life-threatening problems.
Researchers study islets to understand how they work and what goes wrong with them in diabetes.
How islet distribution works
Islets are scarce, and no one has found a way to make more in the lab. They must be collected from donors. This means scientists must vie for existing supplies.
Under the current grant, six islet isolation centers around the country will isolate human islets and ship them to scientists around the world. Centers include:
- Scharp/Lacy Institute
- Southern California Islet Consortium at City of Hope
- University of Illinois – Chicago
- University of Miami
- University of Pennsylvania
- University of Wisconsin
“We expect to distribute over 15 million human islets to approximately 80 investigators worldwide in the first year of this grant,” Niland said. “Those numbers should grow by about 10 percent per year after that.”
Handling the data
City of Hope formed the Data Coordinating Center of the Integrated Islet Distribution Program in 2002. The center has created a Web-based national data system for tracking islet isolation and placement. They’ve also created a customized automated optimization algorithm to make sure available islets are distributed in a fair and equitable manner to waiting scientists.
City of Hope has received more than $43 million stemming from the institution’s role in the islet distribution program since the program began, including a $6 million NIH grant in 2009, also led by Dr. Niland. In addition, the NIH granted City of Hope another $2.9 million to serve as the Data Coordinating Center for the intestinal stem cell program that same year.
To date, the Data Coordinating Center has placed over 429 million islets with laboratory researchers and with clinicians who transplant them to treat patients with type 1 diabetes.
As a result of these distributions, scientists worldwide have published more than 360 peer-reviewed articles on human islets, advancing scientific discoveries and translational medicine.
In addition, faculty and staff members in the Data Coordinating Center have co-authored several peer-review articles related to this project in important scientific journals including the Journal of the American Medical Association, Cell Transplantation and the American Journal of Transplantation.
Nine City of Hope staff members make it all happen:
- John Kaddis, Ph.D., co-investigator on the grant
- Janice Sowinski
- James Cravens
- Barbara Olack
- Cindy Palmer
- Heather Sibley
- Jenny Chuang
- Martha Antler
- Dajun Qian, Ph.D.
For more information about the Data Coordinating Center and the Integrated Islet Distribution Program, visit their website at iidp.coh.org.