This illness is characterized by a lack of these insulin-producing cells. Right now, patients must obtain islet cells from two or three separate donors, and the transplanted cells are so weakened by transplant that most will eventually die off. "However, our experiments in mice show that this small molecule, called SS31, is able to stabilize islet cells and help protect them from harm. The result is a dramatic increase in transplant success using cells from just one donor," says lead researcher Dr. Dolca Thomas, assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and medical director of the Pancreatic Islet Transplantation Program at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

“The very act of isolating islet cells easily sends them into apoptosis - programmed cell death," explains the study's senior author, Dr. Manikkam Suthanthiran, chief of the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension at Weill Cornell Medical College and chief of the Department of Transplantation Medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell.

SS31 - an antioxidant peptide developed in the laboratory of Weill Cornell Professor of Pharmacology Dr. Hazel Szeto - may allow the fragile cells to survive and thrive during and after transplant. "SS31 is, first of all, able to penetrate islet cells, which clump together in tough-to-infiltrate clusters," Dr. Thomas points out. "It also stabilizes a part of the cell called the mitochondrial membrane. We know that keeping this area free from injury is key to preventing apoptosis."

In their experiments, the Weill Cornell team gave SS31 to diabetic mice, each of which had received islet cell transplants from just one donor mouse. The mice were then studied for up to 45 days. "Using SS31, we were able to quickly make 50 percent of these recipient mice insulin-independent or 'normoglycemic' " Dr. Suthanthiran says. "And we did so by using just one donor. That's an incredible improvement over what we see in the usual human transplant model." In contrast, mice who received the transplanted cells without SS31 remained diabetic.; Source: NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital