UT Researcher Wins Grant to Improve Islet Transplant Success Rate

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Ivan C. Gerling, PhD, associate professor at UTHSC and Memphis VA Medical Center collaborative investigator, has been awarded a $100,000 two-year grant from the American Diabetes Association’s Innovation Funding Program.

Ivan C. Gerling, PhD, associate professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) College of Medicine and Memphis VA Medical Center collaborative investigator, has been awarded a $100,000 two-year grant from the American Diabetes Association’s Innovation Funding Program.

Dr. Gerling hopes to solve a problem that has plagued diabetic transplant patients, the destruction of insulin producing cells transplanted into the liver. “Transplantation of the islets of Langerhans is a promising new approach to curing insulin-dependent diabetes by replacing the patient’s destroyed insulin-producing cells,” explained Dr.Gerling. “However, a major roadblock for further development and improvement of the process is the lack of a serum marker to detect destruction of the islets after transplantation.”

Using UTHSC’s new, state-of-the-art mass spectrometry instrument, Dr. Gerling will try to identify a marker by evaluating serum for the presence of modified proteins released from transplanted islets of Langerhans that have been destroyed by the immune system.

“If we can find such a marker, it may be possible to minimize the use of risky immunosuppressive drugs with their unpleasant side effects. We could then increase their use only when the individual patient really needs them to suppress the destruction process. Doctors could then take a much more targeted and aggressive approach to preventing destruction of the transplanted tissue, which could dramatically increase the success rate for this procedure,” noted Dr. Gerling.

Dr. Gerling received his PhD in immunology from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and a postdoctoral fellowship from the Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine. He received the Career Development Award from the American Diabetes Association from 1997 to 2001, and his diabetes research has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 1998.