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Professor Paul Johnson visited Mexico City last month (25-27 October) to be part of the official launch of the TRANSDIA project – a UK-Mexico collaboration to tackle type 1 diabetes.

The international collaboration aims to establish a clinical-grade human islet isolation facility as a precursor to delivering an islet transplant programme in Mexico to treat patients with type 1 diabetes. In addition, the collaboration involves an innovative pre-clinical research project to evaluate the role of gene therapy in improving transplant outcomes, with the ultimate aim of enabling islet transplantation in children.

TRANSDIA involves collaboration between the Centre for Molecular and Cell-based Therapeutics (CMCBT) and three medical institutions that are members of the NIH Organ Donor Network in Mexico City, Oxford Expression Technologies Ltd, Oxford Brookes University and the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences (NDS), University of Oxford, who are leading on the islet transplant side of the project.  

It is funded through the Newton Fund – UK-Mexico Collaborative Industrial R&D Program. In the UK, funding has been provided by Innovate UK and in Mexico funding has been provided by CONACYT (the Mexican Council for Science and Technology). 

It is estimated that there are more than 35 million patients with type 1 diabetes worldwide. This form of diabetes usually has its onset in children and adolescents and since the 1980s, Mexico has witnessed a year on year increase in the incidence of type 1 diabetes such that it is now the most frequent metabolic disorder affecting children and young adults. 

The disorder is caused by auto-immune destruction of the insulin-producing beta cells within the pancreatic islets of Langerhans. Pancreatic islet transplantation is a minimally-invasive treatment that can replace beta cells, thereby normalising glucose levels and reversing the life-threatening complication of hypoglycaemia unawareness (dangerously low blood sugar levels without warning signs). Over 50 per cent of patients undergoing this treatment no longer require insulin injections. Currently, Mexico does not have an islet transplant programme.

Professor Johnson, who is Director of DRWF Islet Isolation Facility and the Lead for the Oxford Islet Transplant Programme at NDS, visited Mexico City to speak at a symposium to launch the international collaboration, meet with partners and visit local hospitals.

Professor Robert Possee, CEO of Oxford Expression Technologies Ltd, is the lead for the UK-Oxford partners and Professor Linda King, Oxford Brookes’ Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Global Partnerships, is the lead for the project at Oxford Brookes.

Oxford Expression Technologies (OET) is a spin out company launched jointly by Oxford Brookes University and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in 2007.

Dr Juan J. Plata-Muñoz, Medical Director of CMCBT, is the lead for the Mexican partners. CMCBT is a biotech company founded by researchers of the Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico City in 2013 and launched as a spin out company in 2015.