In Vitro Evaluation of a Novel Synthetic Bilirubin Analog as an Antioxidant and Cytoprotective Agent for Pancreatic Islet Transplantation

Emilee J. Luckring, Patrick D. Parker, Homayoun Hani, Mary H. Grace, Mary A. Lila, Joshua G. Pierce, Christopher A. Adin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bilirubin is a natural cytoprotective agent and physiologic doses have proven to be beneficial in various models of organ and cellular transplantation. Recently, we showed that bilirubin has protective effects in models of pancreatic islet transplantation, preventing cell death associated with islet stress and suppressing the release of damage-associated molecular patterns. Despite these promising therapeutic attributes, the natural bilirubin used in these research studies is animal-derived (porcine), making it unsuitable for clinical application. In the current study, we synthesized two bilirubin analogs that can be produced without the use of animal-derived products. Antioxidant activity for the analogs was measured using the ferric-reducing-ability-of-plasma (FRAP) and 2,2V-azinobis(3-ethylbenzothiazoline-6-sulfonate) (ABTS) assays. Dose-dependent cytotoxicity and cytoprotective effects were then demonstrated in isolated rat islets. Compound 1 showed similar antioxidant activity to natural bilirubin. Dose-dependent cytotoxicity was seen following treatment with Compound 1 and natural bilirubin at doses >40 μM, resulting in significantly increased cell death when compared to control islets (P < 0.05) or islets treated with doses ≤20 μM (P < 0.05). Following hypoxic challenge, islet cell death was reduced in islets treated with Compound 1 at 10 μM (17.27% ± 0.26%) compared to natural bilirubin at 10 μM (51.36% ± 0.71%; P < 0.0001) or 20 μM (59.02% ± 0.83%; P < 0.0001) and control islets (36.51% ± 0.44%; P < 0.0001). Compound 1 was found to have promising antioxidant and cytoprotective effects, limiting islet cell death in a model of islet transplantation hypoxic stress. Compound 1 may serve as a synthetic drug lead for clinical islet transplantation and further evaluation of this molecule and its analogs is warranted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalCell transplantation
StatePublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • antioxidant
  • bilirubin
  • cytoprotection
  • islet transplantation
  • synthetic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Cell Biology
  • Transplantation

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