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The Hundred-Year Quest


Over 20 years after creating the Edmonton Protocol, a process celebrated as a possible ‘cure’ for diabetes, Dr James Shapiro is at it again. This time, using stem cells. The academic in Canada is researching a new possibility of engineering stem cells to become the insulin-producing islet cells found in the pancreas.

Dr Shapiro explains: “The biggest challenges with the Edmonton protocol approach, where we use cells taken from organ donors, are that we have to use organ donors. When we think about the enormous burden of diabetes worldwide, 463 million people with all forms of diabetes, it’s been clear all along that there would never be enough cells to go around to treat that kind of patient base if the organ donor approach became a therapy for all diabetes. The second, perhaps bigger, limitation is that those donor cells are allogeneic. In other words, they’re foreign to the body. Because of that, anti-rejection drugs have to be given just like any other organ transplant, like a heart, lung, or liver, or those cells will be rejected by the body. To overcome those two challenges, it became clear to us that stem cells provided a unique opportunity to fix both the supply problem and the anti-rejection problem.”

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Born in Leeds, England, Professor James Shapiro obtained his MD at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK, and trained in Surgery at the University of Bristol, UK. After joining the faculty at the University of Alberta, Canada, in 1998, Professor Shapiro led the clinical team with the ‘Edmonton Protocol’ islet transplant success, and was lead author on the 2000 NEJM study. He is a Canada Research Chair in Transplantation Surgery and Regenerative Medicine, and has been the recipient of multiple awards, including the Hunterian Medal from the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the Gold Medal in Surgery from the Governor General of Canada, Physician of the Century, and was recently named one of Nature Biotechnology's most remarkable and influential personalities.
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