JDRF funds U of T Engineering research to improve cell transplantation to treat type 1 diabetes

Professor Michael Sefton leading research project to create hospitable environment for islet cells under the skin

TORONTO – October 12, 2016 - JDRF and the University of Toronto are supporting research that will help improve islet transplantation and make the procedure more widely available for patients living with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

U of T Engineering Professor Michael Sefton was awarded $1.1 million ($845,135 USD) to conduct a three-year study to examine whether creating a more hospitable environment for the insulin-producing cells will improve their survival and boost the success of islet transplantation.

Islet cells are fragile, and current transplantation sites such as the abdominal cavity and liver are “hostile” environments for the cells, which could increase the likelihood of rejection.

Sefton and his team are investigating whether transplanting islet cells under the skin will improve the cells’ survival.

The skin is a less hostile site for islets and has the clinical advantages of being more accessible than current sites and possibly even safer for patients. However, one of the challenges of using the skin as a transplant site is that it has relatively few blood vessels. 

The investigators plan to create a “‘pre-vascularized” environment rich in blood vessels under the skin to ensure the survival of the insulin-producing cells before transplantation takes place.

“The goal is to enable islet cell transplantation under the skin in a retrievable, ‘device-less’ physiologically integrated and scalable implant site,” said Sefton, of the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering and Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry at the University of Toronto. “The goal of this strategy is better control of blood glucose and reduced complications, and most importantly, a more widely available treatment for those living with this disease.”

“Islet transplantation is a promising approach to treatment that also minimizes the risk of serious complications that affect those who live with T1D,” said Dave Prowten, President and CEO, JDRF Canada. “We are proud to support Dr. Sefton and his team as they work to uncover new ways to make this treatment more readily available for people living with T1D.” 


About JDRF

JDRF is the leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes (T1D) research. JDRF’s goal is to progressively remove the impact of T1D from people’s lives until we achieve a world without T1D. JDRF collaborates with a wide spectrum of partners and is the only organization with the scientific resources, regulatory influence, and a working plan to better treat, prevent, and eventually cure T1D. JDRF is the largest charitable supporter of T1D research. For more information, please visit jdrf.ca


Media contact

Diana Buccella
National Communications Specialist, JDRF Canada
[email protected]


About University of Toronto Engineering

The University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering is Canada’s premier engineering school and among the world’s best. Our diverse community includes more than 5,500 undergraduates, 2,200 graduate students, 249 academic staff and almost 50,000 alumni. U of T Engineering is an international leader in research: our faculty members collaborate across disciplines to create solutions in fields from sustainability to bioengineering. Through excellence in engineering education, we prepare the next generation of global engineering leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs to address the world’s most pressing challenges.


Media contact

Marit Mitchell
Communications & Media Relations Strategist, U of T Engineering
[email protected]

Lets turn type one into type none