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Open Access Standardized Transportation of Human Islets: An Islet Cell Resource Center Study of More Than 2,000 Shipments

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Preservation of cell quality during shipment of human pancreatic islets for use in laboratory research is a crucial, but neglected, topic. Mammalian cells, including islets, have been shown to be adversely affected by temperature changes in vitro and in vivo, yet protocols that control for thermal fluctuations during cell transport are lacking. To evaluate an optimal method of shipping human islets, an initial assessment of transportation conditions was conducted using standardized materials and operating procedures in 48 shipments sent to a central location by eight pancreas-processing laboratories using a single commercial airline transporter. Optimization of preliminary conditions was conducted, and human islet quality was then evaluated in 2,338 shipments pre- and postimplementation of a finalized transportation container and standard operating procedures. The initial assessment revealed that the outside temperature ranged from a mean of −4.6 ± 10.3°C to 20.9 ± 4.8°C. Within-container temperature drops to or below 15°C occurred in 16 shipments (36%), while the temperature was found to be stabilized between 15°C and 29°C in 29 shipments (64%). Implementation of an optimized transportation container and operating procedure reduced the number of within-container temperature drops (≤15°C) to 13% (n = 37 of 289 winter shipments), improved the number desirably maintained between 15°C and 29°C to 86% (n = 250), but also increased the number reaching or exceeding 29°C to 1% (n = 2; overall p < 0.0001). Additionally, postreceipt quality ratings of excellent to good improved pre- versus postimplantation of the standardized protocol, adjusting for preshipment purity/viability levels (p < 0.0001). Our results show that extreme temperature fluctuations during transport of human islets, occurring when using a commercial airline transporter for long distance shipping, can be controlled using standardized containers, materials, and operating procedures. This cost-effective and pragmatic standardized protocol for the transportation of human islets can potentially be adapted for use with other mammalian cell systems and is available online at

Keywords: Diabetes; Human islets; Insulin; Shipping protocol; Temperature control

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Information Sciences, City of Hope, Duarte, CA, USA

Publication date: 2013-07-15

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  • Cell Transplantation publishes original, peer-reviewed research and review articles on the subject of cell transplantation and its application to human diseases. To ensure high-quality contributions from all areas of transplantation, separate section editors and editorial boards have been established. Articles deal with a wide range of topics including physiological, medical, preclinical, tissue engineering, and device-oriented aspects of transplantation of nervous system, endocrine, growth factor-secreting, bone marrow, epithelial, endothelial, and genetically engineered cells, among others. Basic clinical studies and immunological research papers are also featured. To provide complete coverage of this revolutionary field, Cell Transplantation will report on relevant technological advances, and ethical and regulatory considerations of cell transplants. Cell Transplantation is now an Open Access journal starting with volume 18 in 2009, and therefore there will be an inexpensive publication charge, which is dependent on the number of pages, in addition to the charge for color figures. This will allow work to be disseminated to a wider audience and also entitle the corresponding author to a free PDF, as well as prepublication of an unedited version of the manuscript.
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