Background: The aim of this study was to create a new research strategy to obtain high-quality pancreatic tissues from subjects with preclinical or clinical type 1 diabetes, which would open up new avenues for studying the mechanisms of the β-cell damaging process in humans.
Research design and methods: A nationwide collaboration network (the PanFin network) was established in Finland to start an on-call screening of diabetes-associated autoantibodies from deceased organ donors and subsequent processing of pancreases from autoantibody-positive donors. This protocol was integrated into the national organ transplantation procedure.
Results: Only a few modifications were needed to the normal transplantation practices. One additional blood sample was obtained from donors for autoantibody analyses, the transplantation team was informed about the autoantibody result and the pancreas of autoantibody-positive donors was transported to the core laboratory. Altogether, 307 donors were screened and 22 (7.2%) were positive for at least one autoantibody and 3 tested positive for two or more autoantibodies out of the five tested (islet cell antibodies, insulin autoantibodies and autoantibodies to glutamic acid decarboxylase, islet antigen 2 and zinc transporter 8). The quality of collected pancreatic tissue was superior to that from autopsies and allowed the detection of both RNA and proteins.
Conclusions: The study protocol was proven feasible to be carried out on a nationwide scale. It did not interfere with the normal transplantation activities and provided valuable tissue material for research.