UAlberta Research in Your Life

Edmonton Protocol:
Paving the way for a cure for Type 1 diabetes                               James Collip

Type 1 diabetes stops your pancreas producing insulin, an important hormone that helps your body get energy from food. While insulin injections help Type 1 diabetics stay alive, it isn’t a cure for the 2 million+ diabetics in Canada and the 30 million worldwide. Nor do insulin injections always prevent serious diabetes related side-effects (e.g., kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage, heart attack, stroke, amputations)

Major breakthroughs
UAlberta research has always been at the forefront of diabetes research and innovation; beginning almost 100 years ago, in 1921 when one of our researchers, James Collip, worked in JR Macleod’s lab while on sabbatical. Banting and Best had discovered an insulin extract but were challenged with how to purify it for human use. Collip, a biochemist, was asked to help and successfully devised a way to purify the extract. The next breakthrough came in 1999 with the Alberta’s Edmonton Protocol—a major leap towards a cure.

1999: The Edmonton protocol
On March 11, 1999, Bryon Best became the first Edmonton Protocol recipient and within a week he no longer needed insulin injections. While not a cure, the protocol was a giant leap forward. It saves and improves lives and gives doctors a new way to combat type 1 diabetes. Many recipients no longer have to depend on daily insulin injections.

30diabetes years in the making. Now used around the world
The Edmonton Protocol transplants islets cells from a healthy donor into a diabetic patient. Anti-rejection drugs then help the body accept the transplant. The procedure stems from UAlberta research begun in 1972 by Ray Rajotte. Like many scientific advances, success didn’t come easily or quickly—Rajotte and his team (Greg Korbutt, Jonathan Lakey, James Shapiro) researched and refined islet cell transplantation for almost 30 years. Today, the procedure is performed around the world but widespread adoption is limited by the shortage of donor tissue—human donation doesn’t provide enough to meet the demand.

The fight continues
UAlberta researchers continue to tackle diabetes, exploring ways to develop an unlimited source of islets for transplant and ways to combat transplant rejection. UAlberta is now home to Canada’s largest freestanding diabetes research facility, the Alberta Diabetes Institute that brings together over 60 scientists from different disciplines to focus on all aspects of diabetes; including nutrition, physical activity, lifestyle and surgical techniques.