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A new documentary film launched by the Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation (DRWF) on World Diabetes Day 2022 features an interview with Professor Paul Johnson, as he describes life-changing results from the DRWF Human Islet Isolation Facility at the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences (NDS).

Professor Paul Johnson

DRWF-funded research is making a life-changing difference for a small number of people living with type 1 diabetes, an auto-immune form of the condition, which is unrelated to lifestyle, as well as providing hope of a future cure for the wider diabetes community.

The DRWF Human Islet Isolation Facility is located within the Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism (OCDEM) at the Churchill Hospital, Oxford. The facility harvests insulin-producing islet cells from donor pancreas for research and transplant.

“Although only a small number of people can currently benefit from an islet cell transplant at present, with our continued financial support, we believe all aspects of this research will refine to overcome current limitations and challenges and make it a more viable treatment option for more people, in future years,” says Sarah Tutton, Chief Executive of UK charity DRWF.

“Our aim is to help people living with diabetes stay well until a cure is found. We are seeing some outstanding, life-changing, results from the unprecedented multi-million pounds (GBP) funding we have put into creating a human islet isolation facility that is pivotal to the UK islet transplant programme, over the last 18 years.”

Ann Adair (52) has been living with Type 1 diabetes since she was 19 years old and was able to come off insulin following successful transplants in 2012 and 2013. She had seen her health deteriorate with the onset of hypoglycaemic unawareness, so she had no sense of when her blood glucose was running low, which left her vulnerable. 

Ann says, “My diagnosis of diabetes came as a shock, as there was no history of diabetes in my family, but I was determined that it wouldn’t define me. However, once I’d had my children, my control became more challenging, and I stopped getting hypo symptoms. This was life changing for both me and my family. My life had become very narrow and limited, and so after careful consideration, an islet transplant seemed like the right course of action for me as I had a strong fear of losing my future independence.

“I am so grateful for the positive changes the transplant made, not only to me but also to the whole family. The transplant was really about restoring my hypo-awareness so the years free from injecting insulin were very much a bonus. It has allowed me to go on to be a Head Teacher for six years,” Ann added.

She received her islet transplants at the Churchill Hospital and Professor Paul Johnson, Director of the DRWF Human Islet Isolation Facility and the Oxford Islet Transplant Programme, and Professor of Paediatric Surgery, University of Oxford, says the DRWF Facility has paved the way for this breakthrough.

He explained, “Over the last few years, insulin technology has advanced incredibly, but ultimately, technology still only controls diabetes rather than reverses it. There will always be a cohort for whom islet transplantation is the treatment of choice. This cohort will increase significantly once we are able to transplant islets without the need for life-long immunosuppression (anti-rejection drugs).”

DRWF Chief Executive Sarah Tutton adds: “In 2004, we made an unprecedented grant of £1.4 million for the provision of a Human Islet Isolation Facility. It plays a pivotal role in the supply of islets for the delivery of an NHS funded national therapy for the treatment of Type 1 diabetes with the aim of restoring hypo-awareness symptoms. Loss of these can be life-limiting and life-threatening.

“Ann’s experience is a wonderful illustration of the effects of a transplant and the changes it made to her and her family’s life. Since the launch of the facility in 2006, we have continued to fund a minimum of 30% of the research team to ensure that the world-class expertise required to further this work, is secure and continues”.

Read the full press release on the DRWF website.