The destruction of a person’s insulin-producing cells by their own immune system is. most often, the cause of insulin-dependent diabetes. The immune system is also a key component in the search for a cure. Regardless of how flawless the surgical techniques of whole pancreas or islet transplantation may be. the key to success lies in the ability to control the immune response to the transplanted organ or cells.
Dr. Starzl. a world-renowned pioneer of transplantation, describes immunosuppression (drugs and processes used to control the immune response to foreign tissue) as the “heart and soul and philosophy” of transplantation. The Holy Grail of transplantation is to be able to create an environment of “immune tolerance,” in which the transplanted cells or organs are accepted as “self” by the immune system without the need for ongoing immunosuppression. Ultimately the goal is to harness the immune system to halt or prevent the initial autoimmune destruction of islets, indeed, to prevent the occurence of diabetes in the first place.