Scientists Report Advances Against Diabetes at Levine Symposium in Southern California

City of Hope researchers were among the more than 50 international investigators reporting advances against type 1 diabetes at the recent Rachmiel Levine Diabetes and Obesity Symposium in Newport Beach, Calif.

Two City of Hope investigators – Joyce Niland, PhD, the Edward and Estelle Alexander Chair in Information Sciences, and Rama Natarajan, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism – spoke at the eighth annual symposium, held January 13-16. City of Hope and the Leslie and Susan Gonda (Goldschmied) Diabetes and Genetic Research Center hosted the event.

Symposium topics ranged from the biology of insulin-producing cells destroyed in type 1 diabetes to improvements in islet cell transplantation.

At City of Hope, surgeons perform islet cell transplantation, in which cells from a donor pancreas are transplanted into patients. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation has designated the institution as one of its 14 official islet cell transplant centers in the United States.

Although insulin injection is still the standard treatment for type 1s, transplantation of healthy insulin-producing cells represents an alternative or supplement to insulin injection.

Niland discussed national movements in transplantation. She updated attendees on an umbrella group called the National Islet Cell Resource Consortium, which monitors distribution of islets for transplant or research. Niland reported growing demand for islets and described the organization’s efforts to optimize and standardize shipping of the fragile tissues to ensure quality.

Islet quality was also a concern of Daniel R. Salomon, MD, associate professor at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., who reported on a collaboration with City of Hope scientist Fouad R. Kandeel, MD, PhD, director of the Department of Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism. Salomon and Kandeel have identified a gene expression pattern characteristic of healthy islets. Such gene signatures, or biomarkers, can be used to ensure islets’ quality before transplantation.

Other Topics Explored

Topics went beyond transplantation, however. Natarajan, for one, described her search for genomic changes associated with type 1 diabetes.

Natarajan’s group looked for these changes, called histone methylation, in genes from patients’ blood cells. They compared cells from people with diabetes to those from healthy people. They found that histone methylation patterns in genes associated with inflammation differed between the groups, suggesting that the changes may switch genes on inappropriately. Now the group wants to understand what stimulates such changes.

The symposium is named for the late Rachmiel Levine, MD, a notable diabetes researcher and City of Hope executive medical director in the 70s and early 80s. During his tenure, a team that included Arthur Riggs, PhD, professor of biology and director emeritus of Beckman Research Institute, and Keiichi Itakura, PhD, a professor of molecular biology, developed synthetic human insulin, the world’s first genetically engineered drug.

Primary supporters for the symposium included the Susan Gonda (Goldschmied) Diabetes and Genetics Research Center, the Southern California Islet Cell Resources Center, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

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