A scientist leading a study into the largest collection of DNA from pancreas transplant donors and recipients ever collated will continue his world-first research at the University of Lincoln.
Dr Matthew Simmonds, a biomedical scientist specialising in diabetes and endocrine disorders – especially the study of autoimmune conditions such as thyroid disease, heads the world’s most extensive investigation into how genetics can affect the function of pancreas transplants in people with type 1 diabetes.
Pancreas transplantation is less common than kidney or liver transplant operations are, but it represents a successful treatment method for a selected group of people with type 1 diabetes.
Dr Simmonds explained: “Whole organ pancreas transplantation has the potential to provide life-long independence from insulin injections for people with type 1 diabetes who suffer poor glycaemic control or severe secondary complications. While early complications are common after transplantation, most operations are successful; however the function of the graft decreases over time. After one year, the percentage of transplanted organs still functioning is currently around 85% and after five years this figure dips further to 68%. Loss of pancreas graft function can ultimately be fatal for transplant patients. Identifying ways of recognising how well they’ll work in the future is therefore key to improving survival.”
“Currently it is not possible to predict when a graft is likely to fail, but our work aims to change this. We are examining the genomes of both the organ donor and the transplant patient to identify patterns which could point to whether or not the transplant will achieve lasting success.”
With more than 1,000 samples gathered to date, Dr Simmonds’ project is the first of its kind. It is hoped that this new research into genetic predictors of long-term pancreas transplant function will make it possible to predict the success of individual grafts so that doctors can more accurately assess whether a transplant will be beneficial for a patient pre-operation.
Previous work in the related field of kidney transplantation has identified several potential genetic factors that correlate with long-term graft function. Dr Simmonds’ work, published in the American Journal of Transplantation in 2015, for the first time revealed that this could also be the case for pancreas transplantation.
His research to date has provided the first evidence that variation in the Caveolin-1 gene, previously shown to correlate with long-term kidney transplant function, also correlates with long-term pancreas graft function.
Dr Simmonds will extend this study in his new position at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, where he has been appointed Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Science. He moves to Lincoln from the University of Oxford where he spent five years examining the genetic predictors of long-term kidney transplant function, before turning his attentions to pancreas transplantation – an entirely new area of research at the time.
During his PhD and early postdoctoral career at the University of Birmingham, his work focused on investigating the genetic contribution to common autoimmune disease, using autoimmune thyroid disease (AITD) as a model. This provided the foundation for his research examining the genes and mechanisms involved in the autoimmune disease process, and an understanding of how genetically similar AITD is to other autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes.
In 2014, Dr Simmonds was one of only 8 scientists in the UK to be selected for Diabetes UK’s Innovators in Diabetes programme, which identifies the next generation of researchers driving significant new studies into the disease.
At Lincoln, Dr Simmonds will teach undergraduate students in Life Sciences on modules covering endocrinology and transplantation.