The usefulness and limitations of the diabetic macaque model in evaluating long-term porcine islet xenograft survival

Melanie L. Graham, Henk Jan Schuurman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Background:: Various groups have reported prolonged diabetes reversal and graft function after porcine islet transplantation into diabetic macaques using different experimental designs (macaque source, islet source, type of immunosuppression): subsequently, the International Xenotransplantation Association has published recommendations for entering a clinical trial. Our experiments showed limitations that affected consistent achievement of long-term survival. We aimed to identify these limitations and underlying causes to emphasize the translational value of this highly relevant type 1 diabetic macaque model. Methods: We reviewed data from our institution and literature data on long-term porcine islet xenograft survival in the diabetic macaque model, especially focusing on aspects of incomplete diabetes reversal relative to macaque normal values. This phenomenon was compared with diabetes reversal in an allo-islet transplant model in macaques and with chronic insulin treatment of diabetic macaques, all with 180-day follow-up. This comparison enabled to identify potential model limitations and underlying causative factors. Results: Especially in the xenograft model, the achievement of long-term graft survival revealed limitations including chronic, mild hyperglycemia and absence of body weight (BW) gain or even progressive BW loss. Metabolic incompatibilities in glycemic control (i.e., insulin kinetics) between the pig and macaque species underlie chronic, mild hyperglycemia. This phenomenon might not bear relevance for the pig-to-human species combination because the glycemic control in pigs and humans is similar and differs from that in nonhuman primates (NHP). Weight loss could be related to changes in the gastrointestinal tract related with local high exposure to orally administered immunosuppressants; these must be given at higher dose levels because of low bioavailability in macaques to achieve systemic exposure at therapeutic levels. This is aggravated by insufficient graft insulin production in proportion to the needs of macaques: this model limitation has no translational value to the pig-to-human setting. Nutritional deficits can result in incorrect interpretation of blood glucose levels and C-peptide levels regarding graft function. Likewise, nutritional status alters physiologic responses, influencing susceptibility to infectious and noninfectious complications. Conclusion: The model-induced confounding described interferes with accurate interpretation of safety and efficacy studies, which affects the translational value of pig-to-NHP islet cell transplant studies to the pig-to-human transplant condition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-17
Number of pages13
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2013


  • diabetes
  • glucose control
  • immunosuppression
  • islet xenotransplantation
  • nonhuman primates
  • pigs
  • transplant model limitations


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