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The aim of this study was to develop techniques to obtain monodispersed, human islet cells in large quantities, since these constitute a potentially transplantable β cell mass with which to treat established type 1 diabetes, as well as provide the most appropriate substrate for studying the immune pathogenesis of the disease. Human islets were isolated from the pancreas of beating-heart organ donors by collagenase digestion. Enzymatic (collagenase types II, IV, V, and XI, trypsin, DNAse, and hyaluronidase) and chemical (EDTA and EGTA) conditions were then used to find the optimum requirements for digestion of intact human islets into their constituent cells. The combination of trypsin with EDTA provided the highest yield of monodispersed islet cells (963 cells/islet) and highest viability (88%). DNAse with EGTA gave high yields (710 cells/islet) but viability was low (55%). Lower yields and viability were obtained using collagenase types II, IV, V, and XI (47–243 cells/islet; viability 45–62%), hyaluronidase (410 cells/islet; 75% viability), and EDTA alone (253 cells/islet; viability 43%). Human islet cells monodispersed using trypsin 0.125 mg/ml in 0.1 mM EDTA retained an insulin secretory response to glucose, and had intact surface class I MHC molecules when analyzed immediately after digestion by flow cytofluorimetry. Our results indicate that functionally intact, single, human islet cells may be obtained in abundance, and provide a potential substrate for islet cell transplantation in the treatment of patients with type 1 diabetes.

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