Information for patients and their relatives

Dear followers of the VANGUARD project,

Since the VANGUARD website has been activated, we have received many messages from patients and their families enquiring about the possibility to enroll in the study.

We are grateful to have so many people interested in the project and following our progress. At the same time, we feel a great responsibility toward people living with type 1 diabetes and their families.

At this time, we are at the very start of the VANGUARD project. We have had a small delay in getting started due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the coming years we will work on developing the individual parts of the VANGUARD product. Once the separate parts are ready, we will assemble them to form the complete bioartificial pancreas. In order to understand whether the individual parts and the assembled product work, we will carry out our research on small animals. This development phase will take 5 years. After this we hope to start studying how the bioartificial pancreas works in humans/people.

Before we can test the bioartificial pancreas in humans, we need to show that it works (i.e. that it effectively produces insulin) and that it is safe to use in humans. The whole VANGUARD consortium is committed to meet these challenges.

As part of this project we will be investigating the patient perspective on this product. What are patients’ thoughts, concerns or information needs? We will study this so we can take these things into consideration in the next phase of human testing. When we start this part of our research, we will post information on how you can participate on our social media platforms. We hope you will get involved!

In the meantime, we will post news on the VANGUARD project on our social media platforms to keep you informed on our progress and the milestones we have reached.

Thank you for your interest in the VANGUARD project and be assured that the whole VANGUARD team is committed to deliver the bioartificial pancreas for you in the hope of offering a new treatment for Type I diabetes in the future.

Ekaterine Berishvili, MD, PhD, project coordinator

On behalf of the VANGUARD consortium

New article published on Immunomodulatory Properties of Amniotic Membrane Derivatives and Their Potential in Regenerative Medicine

The VANGUARD coordinator, Ekaterine Berishvili together with Charles-Henri Wassmer have recently published a new article in Current Diabetes Reports on the Immunomodulatory Properties of Amniotic Membrane Derivatives and Their Potential in Regenerative Medicine.

Purpose of Review

During the last decades, the field of regenerative medicine has been rapidly evolving. Major progress has been made in the development of biological substitutes applying the principles of cell transplantation, material science, and bioengineering.

Recent Findings

Among other sources, amniotic-derived products have been used for decades in various fields of medicine as a biomaterial for the wound care and tissue replacement. Moreover, human amniotic epithelial and mesenchymal cells have been intensively studied for their immunomodulatory capacities.


Amniotic cells possess two major characteristics that have already been widely exploited. The first is their ability to modulate and suppress the innate and adaptive immunities, making them a true asset for chronic inflammatory disorders and for the induction of tolerance in transplantation models. The second is their multilineage differentiation capacity, offering a source of cells for tissue engineering. The latter combined with the use of amniotic membrane as a scaffold offers all components necessary to create an optimal environment for cell and tissue regeneration. This review summarizes beneficial properties of hAM and its derivatives and discusses their potential in regenerative medicine.

Read the full article online:

New research on a promising treatment against type 1 diabetes funded by the European Commission

More than 40 million individuals worldwide are affected by type 1 diabetes, which is the most common chronic disease in children and adolescents. Today’s primary treatment for diabetes is insulin therapy, which requires multiple injections every day to control a person’s blood sugar levels. This can potentially lead to chronic complications such as kidney-related issues (nephropathy), visual impairments (retinopathy) and ischemic heart disease. Beta-cell replacement, done either by pancreas or islet transplantation, is a valid alternative to daily injections, as it restores the possibility to control blood sugar levels (glucose). However, pancreas or islet transplantations rely on organ donors and require lifelong anti-rejection medication to avoid the rejection of the transplanted organ or cells. The process is also associated with complications and is currently only offered to a limited number of patients with severe forms of the disease.
Within the framework of a European funded H2020 project, VANGUARD aims to develop a cure for type 1 diabetes available to a larger group of patients. The VANGUARD project will use advanced tissue engineering techniques to generate a bioartificial pancreas, with the aim to propose a novel cell-based treatment to type 1 diabetes that overcomes the limitations inherent to current therapies. Working on this innovative solution is a multidisciplinary team of researchers from Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany and The Netherlands, led by Dr Ekaterine Berishvili from the University of Geneva, Department of Surgery. According to Dr. Berishvili “the VANGUARD multidisciplinary team will bring regenerative medicine for type I diabetes from bench to bedside”. In total, the project brings together outstanding expertise from six academic institutions with leading scientists in bioengineering, transplantation, gene therapy, immunology and ethics, two SMEs and an NGO.

VANGUARD’s bioartificial pancreas has the potential to improve the success rate of beta-cell replacement therapies with exceptional advantages in terms of efficacy and safety. The treatment of a large number of patients with type 1 diabetes could dramatically reduce the financial burden of the disease, mostly associated with the healthcare costs of chronic secondary complications of diabetes.

The VANGUARD project officially started and had its kick-off last month in January 2020, in conjunction with the annual symposium of the European Pancreas and Islet Transplant Association. Representatives from the nine project partners discussed the start of the research activities and the path towards what has the potential to be a real breakthrough towards a cure for type 1 diabetes.

Scientific contact

University of Geneva
Dr Ekaterine Berishvili
Researcher and Coordinator of the VANGUARD project
Department of Surgery
Faculty of Medicine


The VANGUARD project is funded by the European research and innovation program Horizon 2020 (project number 874700), under the Health program. It is a five-year project that officially started in January 2020 and will end in December 2024. It involves nine project partners from seven European countries and has a budget of € 6.8 million.

VANGUARD partners meet for the first time

Representatives from the eight VANGUARD partners travelled from across Europe to Igls in Austria to officially kick-off the project. The meeting took place on the 25th January 2020 and offered all partners the opportunity to get to know each other and their roles within the VANGUARD project in more detail.

VANGUARD selected for Horizon 2020 funding

Our VANGUARD proposal to develop a new bioartificial pancreas to cure type 1 diabetes has been selected for funding by the European Commission. Under the call SC1-BHC-07-2019 Regenerative medicine: from new insights to new applications, VANGUARD has been selected as one of twelve projects to be funded.

The VANGUARD project aims to deliver an Advanced Therapeutic Medicinal Product (ATMP) of high translational potential, with properties of increased functionality and implantability and protection from immune destruction. We will construct a bioartificial pancreas by assembling insulin-producing organoids, composed of islet cells, human amniotic epithelial cells (hAEC) and blood outgrowth endothelial cells (BOECs), into an amniotic membrane-derived hydrogel.

The consortium consists of 6 academic institutions with leading scientists in their field, 2 SMEs and 1 NGO with expertise in ethical and social aspects of transplantation. We look forward to the project start on 1st January 2020 and to start collaborating together to provide a model for the development of a bioartificial pancreas.