People develop type 1 diabetes because they are unable to produce the hormone insulin. Insulin is made by cells called Langerhans - or 'islets'.  Islet cells produce insulin when blood glucose levels in the body are high, bringing them down again and stop producing insulin when the blood glucose levels are low.

Islet cell transplantation involves extracting islet cells from the pancreas of a deceased donor and implanting them in the liver of someone with type 1 diabetes. First, islets are extracted from someone who has died and given consent for their organs to be used for transplantation. If this produces a suitable number of good quality islets, they can be offered to someone in need of a transplant.

A graphic of a pancreas and a researcher

DRWF has made a significant commitment to Islet Cell Research and Transplant both in the UK and around the world.

In 2004, we made an unprecedented grant to the Nuffield Department of Surgery at the Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, for the provision of a Human Islet Isolation Facility.

The DRWF Human Islet Isolation Facility was launched in 2006 at the Churchill Hospital, Oxford. Housed within the Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism (OCDEM), this facility harvests insulin producing islet cells from donor pancreas for research and transplant. It plays a pivotal role in the supply of islets for the delivery of an NHS funded national therapy for the treatment of type 1 diabetes.

Although only a small number of people can currently benefit from an islet cell transplant, it is our hope that research will continue to refine and improve current processes to enable it to become more widely available as a treatment option in future years.

‘Islet Cell Transplants – What you need to know’ is a patient document written by experts from within the UK Islet Transplant Consortium and made available as part of a national awareness campaign.

Annual World Congress - International Pancreas and Islet Transplantation Association (IPITA)

DRWF has supported IPITA since 2007 and is pleased to be a key sponsor of this years event taking place at the Catholic University, Lyon, France.

IPITA brings together the pancreas and islet transplant community, providing a forum for the open exchange of knowledge and experience in order to facilitate the advancement of the clinical practice of pancreas and islet transplantation in the treatment of type 1 diabetes.

Collectively, DRWF groups in the US, UK, France, Sweden and Finland have contributed to a research strategy which is focused on finding a cure for diabetes. Islet research and transplantation sits firmly at the heart of that strategy. 

The following video shows highlights from our interview with Professor Paul Johnson - Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism (OCDEM) and Professor Bernhard Hering - Schulze Diabetes Institute in Minneapolis, at IPITA 2017.

Professor Johnson is the Director of the Islet Transplant Programme at Oxford, one of the leading clinical and research centres for over 30 years. He has always felt that it is vital to underpin the clinical service with a strong and innovative research programme.

His particular clinical interests are paediatric and endocrine surgery, and cell transplantation. His research interests include optimising human islet isolation, and understanding normal pancreatic development and islet neogenesis. Professor Johnson was awarded a Hunterian Professorship from the Royal College of Surgeons of England for this research in 1998, and was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of The American Academy of Paediatrics in February 2010.

Internationally renowned for his expertise in islet cell transplantation Professor Hering’s research focuses on finding innovative cell-based therapies to restore blood glucose control and insulin independence for people with type 1 diabetes. Additionally, he is committed to exploring new sources of islet cells through xenotransplantation.

Islet cell transplants are limited in availability for a number of reasons, one of the main restrictions is the availability of suitable pancreas donations. With this in mind, DRWF, along with sister organisations in the US, Sweden and Finland, are supporting the work of Professor Bernhard Hering working in partnership with the Spring Point Project to seek an alternative, sustainable source of islet cells suitable for human transplant.

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Each year we run events for people living with diabetes, ranging from educational workshops and wellness events, to fundraising marathons and group skydives. To find out more about our events and how we support people living with diabetes, please visit our Events Page.


Since 1998 we have provided over £12 million of funding for medical research programmes, with the aim of finding a cure for all types of diabetes. In 2004, we made a significant commitment to Islet Cell Research and Transplant, a programme which focuses on the role of islet cells in diabetes. Read more about our commitment to research by visiting our Research Page.


We rely on our amazing donors who raise the funds that help support people living with diabetes across the UK, as well as funding our vital research programmes. There are lots of ways to raise money to support people living with all forms of diabetes, there’s something for everyone! To discover more about fundraising with us, please visit our Fundraising Page