DRWF-funded research is making a life-changing difference for a small number of people living with type 1 diabetes, as well as providing hope of a future cure for the wider diabetes community.

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.

What is Islet Cell Transplant?

A graphic of a pancreas and a researcher

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.

‘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.

  • A small graphic of two people holding a British flag.


    4.9 million people are currently diagnosed with diabetes in the UK

  • A small graphic image of a globe with an arrow pointing upwards.


    The number of people living with diabetes has more than doubled in the last 20 years

  • A small graphic image of three people with a question mark above them.


    537 million people are affected by diabetes around the world

Ann at home.

Life-changing results from DRWF Human Islet Isolation Facility at The Churchill Hospital, Oxford

Ann has been living with type 1 diabetes since she was 19-years-old and was able to come off insulin following a successful transplant. She had seen her health deteriorate with the onset of hypoglycaemic unawareness, so she had no sense of when her blood glucose was running low, which meant she could not be left on her own.

Ann said: “My diagnosis of diabetes came as a shock, as there was no history of diabetes in my family, but I was determined that it wouldn’t define me. However, once I’d had my children, my control became more challenging, and I stopped getting hypo symptoms. This was life changing for both me and my family."

“My life had become very narrow and limited, and so after careful consideration, an islet transplant seemed like the right course of action for me as I had a strong fear of losing my future independence. I am so grateful for the positive changes the transplant made, not only to me but also to the whole family. The transplant was really about restoring my hypo-awareness so the years free from injecting insulin were very much a bonus. It has allowed me to go on to be a head teacher for six years.”

— Ann

For World Diabetes Day 2022 we produced Our Heroes, a short documentary film featuring Ann, and highlighting the success stories from DRWF-funded research and support. You can watch the film here.

Ann received her islet transplants at the Churchill Hospital, Oxford and Paul Johnson, Professor of Paediatric Surgery and Director of the DRWF Islet Isolation Facility and the Oxford Islet Transplant Programme. said the DRWF facility has paved the way for this breakthrough.

Sarah Tutton, DRWF Chief Executive, said:

“Although only a small number of people can currently benefit from an islet cell transplant at present, with our continued financial support, we believe all aspects of this research will refine to overcome current limitations and challenges and make it a more viable treatment option for more people, in future years.

“Our aim is to help people living with diabetes stay well until a cure is found. We are seeing some outstanding, life-changing, results from the unprecedented multi-million pounds (£GBP) funding we have put into creating a human islet isolation facility that is pivotal to the UK islet transplant programme, over the last 18 years.”

Professor Paul Johnson at his research lab.

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.

For World Diabetes Day in 2022, Professor Johnson told DRWF: "Over the last few years, insulin technology has advanced incredibly, but ultimately, technology still only controls diabetes rather than reverses it, and there will always be a cohort for whom islet transplantation is the treatment of choice. This cohort will increase significantly once we are able to transplant islets without the need for life-long immunosuppression (anti-rejection drugs)."

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How We Can Help at DRWF


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