Type-1 diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes is a severe form of diabetes in which the immune system of the body destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. One of the routinely used therapies for this form of diabetes is insulin injection.
For about 1 million Americans living with type-1 diabetes, daily insulin injections are literally a matter of life and death.
One life-changing advancement towards the management of this disease has been taken by a group of scientists at Cornell University. They have recently developed an ingenious, novel system, which on implantation can efficiently restore glucose levels in blood thus managing diabetes. This interesting study was recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Implantation of islet cells is one of the alternatives to insulin therapy, however; implantation of foreign cells causes the body to mount a protective immune response ultimately causing rejection. Hence a successful transplantation requires long-term use of immune-suppressive drugs, which come with their own set of side effects.
The group from Cornell led by Prof. Minglin Ma from the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has developed a method for implanting hundreds of insulin-producing cells into a diabetic patient.
The new tool at Cornell overcomes the routine problems by protecting the to-be-implanted cells in a thin hydrogel coating, which are in turn attached to a polymer thread. The best part of this approach is that these transplants can be easily replaced or removed once they have outlived their usefulness. This is also crucial to avoid tumor formation from these foreign cells.
“When they fail or die, they need to come out,” Ma said. “You don’t want to put something in the body that you can’t take out. With our method, that’s not a problem.”
The polymer thread is basically an ionized calcium-releasing, nanoporous polymer thread on which insulin-producing islet cells are placed. This thread, named TRAFFIC (Thread-Reinforced Alginate Fiber For Islets enCapsulation) was originally inspired by a spider’s web but, according to Ma, is even better because the hydrogel covers the thread uniformly.
“You don’t have any gaps between capsules,” he said. “With a spider’s silk, you still have gaps between the water beads. In our case, gaps would be bad in terms of scar tissue and the like.”
This device when implanted in mice saw their blood glucose level return to normal in two days and remain normal for at least three months. Retrievability was tested in multiple dogs, with 10-inch samples being successfully implanted and removed laparoscopically.
“When Minglin first told me about this, I thought it was brilliant,” Flanders, who performed these implantations in canines said. “There have been other devices sort of like this, but this one seems to have so much promise. It’s minimally reactive, it protects the islet cells, it allows them to sense glucose, they don’t attach to anything, and it can be easily removed. To me, it sounded like a win-win.”
Let’s keep our fingers crossed for this technology to successfully work in human patients.
Original article can be found at: http://www.pnas.org/content/115/2/E263.short