Background: Fetal pig isletlike cell clusters (ICCs) will differentiate when grafted into the thymus gland of outbred immunosuppressed nondiabetic pigs for up to 3 months. Whether these cells will survive for a similar period in a diabetic recipient and will mature with secretion of insulin to ameliorate the hyperglycemia is unknown.
Methods: Between 40,000 and 125,000 ICCs (7,000 to 11,400 ICCs/kg) were injected into the thymus gland of five juvenile pigs immunosuppressed with cyclosporine and deoxyspergualin, and the animals were subsequently made diabetic by the injection of streptozotocin. Insulin was administered subcutaneously, with one pig dying from hypoglycemia. The animal with the least number of ICCs transplanted was killed 81 days later, and the graft was analyzed histologically. Blood glucose levels and porcine C-peptide in the remaining animals were monitored for a median of 101 days.
Results: Histological analysis of the graft showed numerous epithelial cell clusters; the percentage of cells that contained insulin, glucagon, somatostatin, and pancreatic polypeptide were 61%, 64%, 25%, and 18%, respectively. Some cells contained more than one hormone. Porcine C-peptide was detected from 21 days after induction of diabetes but not before. In the pig receiving the most ICCs, blood glucose levels were lowered to nondiabetic levels 109 days after transplantation. Plasma C-peptide levels in response to glucagon in this pig steadily increased after grafting; peak levels were 0, 0.21, 0.45, and 0.52 ng/ml at 4, 21, 49, and 80 days after induction of diabetes compared to 0.09 ng/ml in control diabetic pigs. The secretion of C-peptide in response to oral and intravenous glucose and arginine also was greater than in untransplanted diabetic pigs, the pattern of secretion being consistent with developing fetal beta cells as the source of the C-peptide. Pancreatic insulin content was 0.1 mU/mg, 4% of that in nondiabetic pigs, and the number of beta cells per islet was 3 to 6 compared to 90 in nondiabetic controls.
Conclusions: ICCs will differentiate and function for up to 111 days when transplanted into outbred immunosuppressed pigs rendered diabetic. Blood glucose levels can be lowered to nondiabetic levels when sufficient numbers of ICCs are grafted.