For people with type 1 diabetes, they need regular insulin injections, which obviously inconvenience their lives, but they have to control their blood sugar levels,media reported. In response, scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a new type of implantable cells that can overcome the rejection of the host’s immune system to produce key hormones in the body.
Over the past few decades, a small number of people with diabetes have been treated through so-called islet cell transplants. These cells produce insulin in the functioning pancreas, and by implanting them into diabetics it plays a traditional role so that patients no longer need regular insulin injections.
However, the treatment is not more widely used, and the reason behind this is that the vast majority of recipients experience complications because their immune system mistakes implanted cells for dangerous intruders and then attacks them. While drugs that suppress this immune response are a solution, they also carry risks of making patients more susceptible to infection or more serious side effects.
So allowing insulin cells to survive and function properly after being transplanted into the body has become a key goal for researchers in the field. There have been ways to convert patients’ own liver cells into islet cells and then wrap them in seaweed-based capsules and group them into clusters, but now MIT scientists have come up with another approach.
This technique encapsulates cells in a protective shell consisting of silicon-based elastomers and porous membranes. It is understood that these pores are large enough to get nutrients, oxygen and insulin from the outside world, and small enough to block immune cells trying to attack cells.
The team did a number of mouse experiments to test the feasibility of the technique, which showed that it could maintain healthy blood sugar levels in mice for more than 10 weeks.
The team also experimented with human embryonic kidney cells, which were transformed into the ability to produce erythropoietin (EPO). It is known that this hormone can promote the production of erythropoietin. These encapsulated cells survived for more than 19 weeks after being transplanted into mice, allowing the entire red blood cell count to grow.
In addition, the team found that the wrapped cells could be triggered by certain drugs to produce certain proteins. In one experiment, scientists asked mice to take strong mycomycin before cells began to produce erythropoietin, suggesting that the technology could serve as a “live drug factory” that could provide the hormones and proteins needed on demand.
While the team is currently working to use the technology to treat diabetes and improve the survival of transplanted islet cells, they hope it will eventually become a valuable tool for treating any chronic disease.
The study was published in Nature Biomedical Engineering.