A person with diabetes is not able to properly make or use insulin well. Advancements in science are now seriously looking at updating and perfecting ways to help people with diabetes. One of these probable treatments is using transplanted islet cells that can produce insulin “on demand” when a person’s blood sugar gets too low.
People with type 1 diabetes normally have to inject insulin throughout the day to keep their blood glucose levels in a normal range. Using transplanted cells would mean that the person would already have the cells to produce insulin inside their bodies and would no longer need these daily injections. There have been some people who were given these transplanted cell treatments since 1999; however, although the treatment is effective, the body’s immune cells will start attacking these foreign cells unless the patient takes immunosuppressive drugs. Unfortunately, the side effects of the drugs make patients very susceptible to viruses and infection which prevents this treatment from being more widely used.
For a few years now, associate professor of chemical engineering Daniel Anderson and his team have been looking at ways to make this form of treatment more viable and widespread.
Anderson’s team realized they needed to create a device that can protect the cells from immune cells that will attack the foreign cells. They were able to create a device from silicon-based elastomer with a porous membrane. This device has the same firmness as body tissue and can wrap around organs. The outside of the device is coated with a drug called THPT which helps prevent scar tissues from building up when immune cells attack foreign invaders and objects, like these transplanted cells, in the body.
The good part about the device is that it keeps the cells safe from attacking immune cells and also has pores that allow the cells to obtain nutrients and oxygen from the bloodstream.
Anderson’s team tested the new device and cells on diabetic mice. After injecting them with the transplanted rat islet cells, the rats were able to maintain a healthy range of blood glucose levels for over 10 weeks.
This new device has even been tested on embryonic human kidney cells. This protective device may be the key to helping the cells that are transplanted survive inside their host.
These cells and protective devices are being called a “living drug factory” and could be the future treatment for people with a multitude of chronic diseases that require consistent doses of protein and/or hormones.
Anderson and his team are currently looking at ways to make these cells live longer inside their hosts.
Sigilon Therapeutics has currently patented the THPT coating and is looking at ways to perfect the treatment.
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