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City of Hope receives $15 million grant for islet cell research program

During her more than 30 years at City of Hope, Joyce Niland, Ph.D., the Estelle & Edward Alexander Chair in Information Sciences, has helped design, build and operate City of Hope’s data systems within the cancer center, and now the Arthur Riggs Diabetes & Metabolism Research Institute. She and her team have meticulously assembled essential, empirical data that has informed the treatment and advanced research for cancer and diabetes.
A considerable part of her contributions has been toward creating and leading the Integrated Islet Distribution Program (IIDP), for which she recently received a five-year grant renewal totaling $15 million. A significant investment in groundbreaking research, this program provides human islets to diabetes researchers around the world.
Joyce Niland, Ph.D.
“We have been running the IIDP as the Coordinating Center [CC] at City of Hope since 2009, and its predecessor program — the Islet Cell Resource Center Consortium — since 2002,” explained Niland, who has been principal investigator since the program’s inception.
“Human pancreatic islets are an essential research resource for studying the prevention, treatment and pathophysiology of diabetes. But there is a limited supply of human islets available to interested investigators,” she continued. “With the support we have in this grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases [NIDDK], we’re advancing diabetes research and discoveries in labs across the globe.”
Niland and her team have been able to create a unique and novel web-based islet allocation system that utilizes the proprietary Matching Algorithm for Islet Distribution. This algorithm ensures that the distribution of islets to eager diabetes scientists is fair and equitable. To date, IIDP has shipped more than 270 million islet equivalents (IEQ) for more than 500 studies across 16 countries, a remarkable feat in advancing research into the disease.
“We also provide ancillary tissue and data to support diabetes research,” Niland said. “We have established an islet phenotyping program in a subcontract partnership with Vanderbilt University, as well as a genotyping initiative with Stanford University.” Through the grant, Niland’s lab also subcontracts with five Islet Isolation Centers, one of which is located on City of Hope’s Duarte campus, the Southern California Islet Cell Resource Center,  operating under the direction of Fouad Kandeel, M.D., Ph.D. Others within the network include Scharp-Lacy Research Institute in Aliso Viejo, California; the University of Miami; the University of Pennsylvania; and Loyola University Medical Center in Illinois.
Reviewers considered the public health relevance of the program, the significance of the work on the advancement of science, and ultimately on diabetes patients, and the ways in which the program evolves as discoveries and advances are made within it.
“We also were judged based on our innovation, and with this latest renewal we proposed adding several new research offerings in partnership with our IICs,” said Niland. These include the provision of additional tissue samples for genomic testing, such as human pancreas and juvenile islet cells.
For the grant renewal, Niland and team also hold the unique distinction of having earned a perfect score of 10 on the NIH scale. The grant was rated as “exceptional,” and as “having a high impact.”
“We were very pleased to receive this score,” Niland said. “The review was conducted by eight experts in the field of diabetes research who are very discerning in assessing the details and scope of the project captured in the proposal.” Some of the reviewer comments include:
“The IIDP is a program that will continue to exert an irreplaceable role in providing the scientific community with much-needed high-quality human islets. Dr. Niland brings decades of experience within the diabetes space, and has the expertise in data management that allows for the integration of multiple sources of data for the islet research community in an easily accessible way.”
Niland acknowledges her entire team is responsible for the IIDP program, its successes and for the support they helped to secure for another five years. 
“With this program and the unique talents and skills of the entire team, we are able to foster new investigators into the field of diabetes research,” Niland said. “This grant allows us to continue this critical research resource for diabetes investigators worldwide. We are promoting the next generation of scientific experimentation toward the prevention and treatment of diabetes.”