Dr. Ray V. Rajotte

CM, AOE, MSM, PhD, PEng FRCPC, FRCS, Professor of Surgery and Medicine, Director Surgical-Medical Research Institute, Founding Scientific Director, Alberta Diabetes Institute, University of Alberta
Researcher of the month: 
Mar 2009

Diabetes research champion

Dr. Ray Rajotte, an Alberta scientist, has devoted most of his career to finding a cure for diabetes. His outstanding contribution is the formation of the Islet Transplantation Group, which developed the Edmonton Protocol, at the University of Alberta. As the closest step to a cure for Type 1 diabetes, the protocol earned Dr. Rajotte kudos from his peers, and has provided new hope to type-1 diabetes patients around the world.

Type 1 diabetes results from insulin deficiency in the body, which can lead to a broad range of symptoms, including cardiovascular problems, blindness and a shortened lifespan. Diabetics require lifelong, daily injections of insulin in order to survive. Dr. Rajotte's research aimed to ameliorate this situation.

A graduate of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Ray Rajotte did his post-doctoral studies in the United States. Early in his research career, he hypothesized that if islets - clusters of cells in the pancreas, where insulin is produced - could be transplanted into a diabetic patient's body, they might produce sufficient insulin for the diabetic patient's needs. Islet transplantation might, therefore, free patients from the need for painful daily injections of insulin.

The journey from this initial idea to the first successful islet transplant was a long one. Dr. Rajotte began his battle against diabetes in 1972. Ten years later, he founded the Islet Transplantation Group at the University of Alberta. In 1989, the group attempted its first treatment, implanting islets into the kidney of a diabetic patient. Sadly, the treatment was only partially successful – as can happen with any transplant, the host patient's immune system attacked the foreign cells, destroying them before they could become effective.

Another ten years passed before the Islet Transplantation Group would realize Dr. Rajotte's vision. In 2000, the Edmonton Protocol – islet transplants, managed with a combination of anti-rejection drugs – was successful in eight patients, who went on to survive without insulin injections.

Dr. Rajotte's current research focuses on finding ways to expand the supply of islets – human donations do not provide enough to meet the demand. Dr. Rajotte and his collaborators are working to harvest the needed cells from neonatal pigs. Trials of this harvesting technique have shown promise in monkeys.

One of Dr. Rajotte's greatest contributions to the search for a diabetes cure was his involvement in creating the Alberta Diabetes Institute, of which he was the founding scientific director, at the University of Alberta. This institute has already established itself as a world-leader in the field, and houses over thirty lead scientists and hundreds of students, researchers and support staff. The centre examines all aspects of diabetes treatment, including nutrition, lifestyle and surgical techniques.

Dr Rajotte has been widely recognized for his achievements. In 2006 he was given an Alberta Order of Excellence and in the following year he was appointed Member of the Order of Canada.