For people who have diabetes‚ the use of islet-cell transplantation to eliminate the need for insulin injections holds great promise.
But the supply of islet cells available for those transplants is limited. The cells typically come from the pancreases of deceased donors‚ and it sometimes takes cells from two or three donor pancreases to reverse diabetes in one person.
In 2006‚ research led by University of Minnesota innovator Bernhard Hering, M.D., showed that islet cells from pigs could be used to reverse diabetes in monkeys. He thinks that pig islet cells could be used to reverse diabetes in humans as well.
But first Hering would need a safe source of high-quality pigs from which to harvest the cells.
Enter Spring Point Project‚ a nonprofit organization founded by entrepreneur Thomas Cartier that aims to expedite the widespread availability of islet cells for transplantation by creating a source of disease-free pig islet cells at a secure‚ sterile facility.
Cartier’s son Cory was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 10. Doctors told the family that there was no cure—Cory would just have to deal with it.
“When I realized that dealing with it means watching him take shots and prick his fingers‚ like millions of people do‚ my wife and I said it’s just not acceptable‚” Cartier says.
Today the Spring Point Project facility houses pigs whose islet cells will someday be used to try to cure diabetes in humans. Clinical trials at the University to test this idea are scheduled to begin in late 2009 or early 2010.
“We’re going to find the answer to this‚” Cartier says. “We’re not going to accept it the way it is.”