Membrane Allows Transplant Of Insulin Producing Islet Cells

Dutch researchers have developed a membrane that can encapsulate insulin-producing cell clusters called islets of Langerhans.

This encapsulating system may eventually allow the islets to be transplanted successfully into people having type 1 diabetes.

With type 1 diabetes, the islets of Langerhans function poorly, diminishing insulin production. Since insulin is necessary for blood sugar regulation, type 1 patients must inject themselves with insulin several times each day.

While islet transplantation into the liver is considered a potential type 1 cure, many transplanted cells do not survive long. The body’s defensive immune response to unfamiliar islets, and putting them in a non-natural environment has made transplantation challenging.

To meet this challenge, the researchers created a semipermeable membrane that allows oxygen, nutrients, and insulin to pass through, while protecting islets from the body’s immune response. The membrane has a porous lid, and contains tiny compartments to house the islets, and keep them separate.

Testing showed the device protects islet structure, and after seven days of being cultured the cells maintained their responsiveness to glucose, suggesting the membrane may facilitate transplantation. Animal transplant studies are already underway.

Though the encapsulating membrane is a research breakthrough, the investigators note that human trials are years away. “We need to test the biocompatibility of the device in vivo as well as develop good strategies of the device ‘upscaling,’” says researcher Prof. Dimitrios Stamatialis.

Stamatialis also said that using stem cells to create islets may someday be possible; however, the membrane approach might allow the option of transplanting islets harvested from other species.

Source: University of Twente/AlphaGalileo
Photo credit: University of Twente

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