Warsaw team makes waves in the fight against diabetes

Doctor Michał Wszoła, the head of the research team. Kalbar/TFN

A Polish team of scientists have won international recognition for making surgery on diabetics safer.

A team led by Doctor Michał Wszoła at the Foundation for Research and Science Development has found a solution to the damage caused to DNA during transplantation of islets. The innovative breakthrough was achieved by increasing the light spectrum beyond UV levels.

Their ground-breaking research was recognised at the 9th EPITA (European Pancreas and Islets Transplant Association) symposium.

Around the world the number of people with diabetes is rising and in Poland there are an estimated 3 million sufferers. While type 2 is the most common form of diabetes there are 200,000 Poles with type 1 diabetics, and unlike type 2 sufferers, who typically become ill later in life, type 1 diabetes can start in childhood.

'It works because we will cheat the immune system,' Wszoła told TFN.Kalbar/TFN

It is the type 1 patients who have other debilitating complications that Wszoła and his team are looking to help. Poland has 10,000 to 20,000 patients that are eligible for transplants but only around 20-40 operations take place each year. The cost of caring for these sufferers is around PLN 500 million PLN a year.

Now Wszoła and his team have taken a major step forwards towards helping them by developing a new technique to tackle problems caused by the immune system attacking the patient’s pancreas, which leads to type 1 diabetes. 

“It works because we will cheat the immune system,” he told TFN. “After taking the stem cells from the patient, we will not only propagate them but change their fate. We will change the surface of the cells which are recognized and attacked by the immune system in type 1 diabetes, then we will change them for insulin and glucagon producing cells.”

Poland has 10,000 to 20,000 type 1 patients that are eligible for transplants but only around 20-40 operations take place each year.Kalbar/TFN

The project, which began on January 1, 2017 and is funded to run until the end of this year, will begin testing on mice in March. They will not be transplanting any organs but instead will graft pancreatic flakes with specially programmed bio-ink and islets onto the back of the mice. 

“We want to see how the micro vessels and the micro structure will enter our bio-ink with our pancreatic islets,” said Wszoła.

If successful the team will move onto testing on pigs before human trials, which should take place in about three to four years, but will require further funding. So far The National Centre for Research and Development has funded most of the project.

The team’s ground-breaking research was recognised at the 9th EPITA (European Pancreas and Islets Transplant Association) symposium.Kalbar/TFN

Wszoła has been involved in many firsts in his career. In 2008 he participated in the first pancreatic islet graft in Poland, and in 2010 the first pancreas transplant. He also created a new method of mini-invasive treatment of complicated diabetes in 2013, and in 2015 the first exchange of kidney pairs between donors-recipients from the same family. 

“Every surgery is special because I am helping the patient who believes in me and believes I will help them,” said the doctor on his work.