NIH to Fund Research to Treat Chronic Pancreatitis

The research has important implications for finding a potential cure for type 1 diabetes.

Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina have received a $1.68 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study new ways to treat chronic pancreatitis, with the goal of gaining insight into potential cures for type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Hongjun Wang, PhD, will lead the team to study ways to increase the survival of islet grafts following transplant surgery. These procedures involve a cluster of islet cells placed in the pancreas to produce insulin.

Wang’s lab previously conducted a pilot study that examined the effects of the liver protein alpha 1 anti-trypsin (AAT) in mice, who received islet tranplants of human cells from cadavers. After the procedures, the AAT improved liver function and prevented the mice from getting diabetes.

The 5-year NIH grant will involve infusing AAT into patients who have had their pancreas removed on a weekly basis for 1 month. Researchers hope to see whether human patients gain the protective effectives from diabetes seen in the mouse model, and they also hope to increase their understanding of how the AAT functions.

AAT has been used to treat emphysema and is known to be safe, so if it is shown to be effective in preventing diabetes, its therapeutic potential is significant.

Chronic pancreatitis is a painful condition caused by inflammation of the gland that is responsible for excreting many enzymes that help people digest their food. The most important enzyme produced by the pancreas is insulin. Destruction of the pancreas or its function can happen in a variety of ways, from taking common drugs, too many triglycerides or too much alcohol. Once that occurs, surgical remove can be necessary, but that means all the islet cells are also removed, which leaves the patient a diabetic, with lifelong complications.