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Monday, May 27, 2024

For nearly 1 million Americans, type 1 diabetes can cause blindness, increases the risk of heart disease and decreases life expectancy.

Thousands of pancreases will soon be housed at UF's College of Medicine in an effort to unlock secrets of the disease, said Mark Atkinson, the American Diabetes Association Eminent Scholar for the college's diabetes research.

Atkinson is also director of the newly created Network for Pancreatic Organ Donors with Diabetes. The network, known as nPOD, is an international research center dedicated to studying the pancreases of people who have or are at risk for type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is a disease in which the body's white blood cells attack cells in the pancreas that are responsible for producing insulin, Atkinson said.

When this happens, the body cannot regulate how it uses and stores sugar. This can lead to kidney problems, male impotence and amputations.

People with type 1 diabetes are born with the disease. Symptoms usually manifest during childhood or early adolescence.

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation is giving the program nearly ,3 million for at least three years of research, Atkinson said.

He said the ultimate goal is to conduct updated research on how the disease develops. Many theories taught on the subject are based on 30- to 50-year-old autopsies, he said.

"Our research tools have improved, but they haven't been fully applied to fresh tissue," Atkinson said. "We're breaking a lot of new ground here."

Even though about 8,000 pancreases are donated each year, a little more than three-fourths go unused because of the complicated process of matching a pancreas to a patient, he said.

"It's a sad thing," he said.

UF will collect pancreases in three ways.

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Those from deceased organ donors with type 1 diabetes will be shipped from hospitals around the country.

A rapid blood test developed by UF researchers will also allow nPOD to collect organs from donors who had early signs of the disease in their blood but never displayed any symptoms.

Though the proposal is not final, nPOD will also collect pancreases from a special group of research subjects at Harvard University. Known as "medalists," they have had type 1 diabetes for more than 50 years but display no adverse effects.

Some organs will be researched at UF, while others will be shipped to research facilities in Australia, Finland, England and several other countries, Atkinson said.

He said he is proud that UF is at the forefront of the international effort.

"We talk of having the No. 1 football team and the No. 1 basketball team," he said. "We're also the No. 1 JDF-funded organization in the world."

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