A decade of diabetes progress

Snapshots of 10 Alberta Diabetes Institute researchers.

FoMD news staff with files from Mary Jo Fell and Caroline Barlott - 14 November 2017

On November 14, 2017―World Diabetes Day―the Alberta Diabetes Institute celebrates 10 years at the Li Ka Shing Institute for Health Research Innovation.

"There's always been a rich history of diabetes research in Edmonton at the U of A, dating all the way back to the early 1920s and the work of James Collip, a local biochemist who purified insulin," said Peter Light, director of the Alberta Diabetes Institute.

The city's name was officially put on the world's diabetes research map in 2000, with the development of the Edmonton Protocol, an internationally recognized procedure that implants insulin-producing islet cells into the liver of a person with type 1 diabetes, often allowing for insulin independence.

Ray Rajotte, founding director of the Alberta Diabetes Institute and professor emeritus of surgery and medicine, laid the crucial groundwork for the Edmonton Protocol, now the gold standard for islet transplantation.

Today, more than 65 principal investigators from diverse fields study the complexity of diabetes under one roof. While the focus of their research projects are diverse, all Alberta Diabetes Institute members share the same goal: to improve the lives of people with diabetes and to find a cure. Here is a snapshot of 10 Alberta Diabetes Institute researchers contributing to the international diabetes dialogue today:

Greg Korbutt

Scientific Director of the Alberta Cell Manufacturing Facility

Professor, Department of Surgery

A member of the original Edmonton Protocol team, Gregory Korbutt continues to drive towards making freedom from daily insulin injections a reality for diabetics. He and his team are developing a safe source of islets from neonatal pigs for clinical use, creating a "scaffold" as a more hospitable environment for transplanted islet cells to survive longer.

The U of A is poised to deliver stem-cell treatments to patients thanks to the Alberta Cell Manufacturing Facility―the only facility in Western Canada able to produce therapeutic-grade cells that can be used in patients.

James Shapiro (right) with Richard Siemens

James Shapiro
Professor, Department of Surgery and adjunct professor in Department of Medicine, Department of Oncology

Director of the Clinical Islet Transplant Program

Canada Research Chair in Transplantation Surgery and Regenerative Medicine

The leader of the original Edmonton Protocol team, surgeon James Shapiro is now investigating the use of stem cells during the transplantation procedure rather than islet cells. He is currently working with a U.S. company named Viacyte and together they are in the midst of a clinical trial, experimenting with the location of the cell transplant, moving it from the liver to a site just underneath the skin in a device that prevents the body's immune cells from coming into direct contact with the transplanted stem cells.

Peter Senior (left) and Bob Teskey

Peter Senior

Medical Director of the Clinical Islet Transplantation Program

Director, Division of Endocrinology & Metabolism

Professor, Department of Medicine

As the medical director of the Clinical Islet Transplantation Program where the Edmonton Protocol is put into practice, Peter Senior contributes towards refining and enhancing this procedure while participating in novel research involving stem cell based islet replacement.

His clinical trials include interventions for new onset type 1 diabetes, novel agents for type 2 diabetes and therapies for preventing renal function loss in diabetes patients.

Lori West (left) and Keisha Cardinal

Lori West

Director, Alberta Transplant Institute
Director, Canadian National Transplant Research Project

Professor, Department of Pediatrics and adjunct professor in Department of Medical Microbiology & Immunology and Department of Surgery

Lori West is tackling transplant rejection and the negative side effects of anti-rejection drugs. When insulin-producing islet cells are transplanted into a person, the immune system wants to reject them as foreign. West's research aims to harness the power of T cells (Tregs)a type of white blood cell that controls the immune reactionand use them to suppress rejection of islet-cell transplantation for diabetes patients, minimizing the need for lifelong immunosuppressive medications.

Peter Light with Siyapreet Brar

Peter Light

Director, Alberta Diabetes Institute

Charles A. Allard Chair in Diabetes Research
Professor, Department of Pharmacology

Peter Light's research studies how commonly used drugs prescribed for type 2 diabetes may directly alter the behaviour of human islets. He and his team are exploring ways to genetically engineer islet cells to improve their function after transplantation. Light is able to access islet cells from the Alberta Diabetes Institute's IsletCore, housed right inside the Li Ka Shing Health Research Innovation building.

Patrick MacDonald (right) and Arun Patel

Patrick MacDonald

Director of the Alberta Diabetes Institute's IsletCore

Professor in the Department of Pharmacology

Patrick MacDonald's research has contributed greatly to our understanding of how insulin secretion from islet cells is regulated through the action of enzymes, intracellular proteins and gene expression. His recent work has identified previously unknown pathways in islet cells that impact insulin secretion, setting the stage for future therapeutic targeting that can rescue cells stressed in type 2 diabetes.

Rose Yeung

Assistant professor, Department of Medicine

Rose Yeung is a clinical endocrinologist with special research interests in the importance of engaging the community to address diabetes-care gaps. As Yeung works to develop interventions for preventing and reducing the burden of gestational diabetes, the fastest rising form of diabetes, she aims to improve diabetes care with the integration of peer support, community-health workers and educational resources.

Jessica Yue (left) and Kira Heck

Jessica Yue

Assistant professor, Department of Physiology

Jessica Yue is looking into how the brain regulates fat metabolism and prevents cardiovascular disease, an important risk factor for obesity and diabetes. The signals sent by the brain to the body that usually protect a person from over-producing harmful lipids may fail sometimes, allowing a bigger risk for developing these diseases. Yue has opened a path to possibly prevent diabetes by identifying the potentially faulty process quickly and developing new therapies to intervene.

Doug Zochodne
Director, Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute

Director, Division of Neurology

Professor, Department of Medicine

Peripheral nerve damage and pain are commonly associated with type 2 diabetes and Doug Zochodne's research has made significant strides towards identifying the mechanisms leading to this often-debilitating complication. Zochodne and his research team have identified a number of protein and molecular signals that play important roles in the maintenance and repair of injured nerves and are exploring a number of therapies aimed at promoting nerve regeneration in diabetes models.

Jason Dyck

Canada Research Chair in Molecular Medicine

Director, Cardiovascular Research Centre at the U of A

Professor, Department of Pediatrics and adjunct professor, Department of Medicine

Jason Dyck leads research that is unravelling how the heart gets its energy and how changes in energy metabolism brought on by diabetes can lead to cardiac diseases, one of the leading complications of diabetes. Dyck is helping decipher molecular pathways related to these changes, important for future drug development. He has also explored how the natural phenol resveratrol exerts protective effects in the diabetic heart and is currently investigating whether these effects are mediated through the action of gut microbiota.

Portraits of Diabetes

To mark the 10th anniversary of the Alberta Diabetes Institute opening its doors at the University of Alberta, the Alberta Diabetes Institute has created a series of portraits featuring Albertans living with diabetes.

One million people in Alberta have diabetes or prediabetes, with one in 10 deaths in Canada attributed to this disease.

There is no cure right now. But progress is being made through diabetes research happening at the Alberta Diabetes Institute. Portraits of Diabetes is a reminder of the importance of continued diabetes research and understanding the impact diabetes has on the lives of a million of Albertans.