Dr Norman Kneteman and Dr James Shapiro, two of the major developers of the Edmonton Protocol, became two of only three Canada Research Chairs in transplantation. Kneteman’s research focuses on reducing the toxicity of immunosuppressive therapies and developing prevention models for recurring Hepatitis C, one of the major causes of liver transplants. Shapiro’s research deals with pancreatic islet transplantation.
In 2000, researchers at the University of Alberta revealed details of their new treatment for diabetes, and people who had received the new treatment spoke about their experiences. The procedure, now known as the Edmonton Protocol, uses a new combination of drugs to prevent the body’s immune system from rejecting the transplanted insulin-producing islet cells.
More than two million Canadians have diabetes and suffer from its life-threatening complications such as blindness, kidney disease, nerve damage and amputations, heart disease, and stroke. Since the mid 1970s, researchers in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry have been seeking a cure for diabetes. This large group of clinical and basic scientists is an international centre of excellence for diabetes research and transplantation.
Leading-edge research is under way into the causes and prevention of the autoimmune response that leads to the destruction of the insulin-producing islet cells and the consequent development of diabetes. By 2001, the team had identified effective immune intervention approaches to prevent autoimmune diabetes in animals. Current research is focused on using gene therapy to make selected cells (other than islet cells) produce insulin in an appropriate and regulated fashion.
The Islet Transplantation Group achieved international acclaim in 2000 by improving clinical islet transplantation success from 8 percent to 100 percent insulin independence at one year. Experts hailed this success as the most exciting diabetes news in decades. Now known as the Edmonton Protocol, this achievement set a new standard for islet transplantation. Between 1996 and 2001, the group received external funding of more than $24 million.
The University of Alberta is one of the world's most respected transplantation centres.
Basic science research involves studies of the mechanisms of rejection, immunosuppression, and tissue aging. A large number of clinical research projects are underway, particularly in kidney transplantation, as are many multi-centre clinical trials.
The research is pivotal in setting national and international agendas for research and development. The Department of Medicine was chosen as the site for the editorial office of the 2001 American Journal of Transplantation, the official journal of both the American Society of Transplantation and the American Society of Transplant Surgeons.