“Living drug factories” produce insulin from inside the body

For type 1 diabetics, regular injections of insulin are an unfortunate reality of life, necessary to keep their blood sugar levels in check in lieu of a healthy pancreas. Scientists at MIT have developed a new type of implantable cell that could handle the heavy lifting by overcoming rejection by the host’s immune system to go on producing the key hormone from within the body.

For the last couple of decades, a relatively small amount of diabetics have benefited from what’s known as pancreatic islet cell transplantation. These are the cells that produce insulin in a functional pancreas and by implanting them into sufferers of diabetes, they can take on their traditional role and negate the need for regular insulin injections. The reason this form of therapy isn’t used more widely is that the great majority of recipients experience complications, as their immune system mistakes the transplanted cells for dangerous invaders and goes on the attack.

Drugs that suppress this immune response are one solution, but they invite their own risks such as vulnerability to infection or more serious side effects. So getting pancreatic islet cells to survive transplantation and function as normal is seen as a key objective by researchers in the field, which is something MIT researchers have achieved.

The technology involves encapsulating the cells in a protective shell made from a silicon-based elastomer, combined with a porous membrane. These pores are large enough that nutrients, oxygen, and insulin can move freely through the membrane, but small enough to keep out immune cells that seek to attack the cell. In essence, they are “living drug factories” within the body.

While the team is currently focused on using the technology to treat diabetics and improve the viability of transplanted islet cells, they hope it could eventually serve as a valuable tool to treat any kind of chronic disease.

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“Living drug factories” produce insulin from inside the body

For type 1 diabetics, regular injections of insulin are an unfortunate reality of life, necessary to keep their blood sugar levels in check in lieu of a healthy pancreas. Scientists at MIT have developed a new type of implantable cell that could handle the heavy lifting by overcoming rejection by the host’s immune system to go on producing the key hormone from within the body.

For the last couple of decades, a relatively small amount of diabetics have benefited from what’s known as pancreatic islet cell transplantation. These are the cells that produce insulin in a functional pancreas and by implanting them into sufferers of diabetes, they can take on their traditional role and negate the need for regular insulin injections. The reason this form of therapy isn’t used more widely is that the great majority of recipients experience complications, as their immune system mistakes the transplanted cells for dangerous invaders and goes on the attack.

Drugs that suppress this immune response are one solution, but they invite their own risks such as vulnerability to infection or more serious side effects. So getting pancreatic islet cells to survive transplantation and function as normal is seen as a key objective by researchers in the field, which is something MIT researchers have achieved.

The technology involves encapsulating the cells in a protective shell made from a silicon-based elastomer, combined with a porous membrane. These pores are large enough that nutrients, oxygen, and insulin can move freely through the membrane, but small enough to keep out immune cells that seek to attack the cell. In essence, they are “living drug factories” within the body.

While the team is currently focused on using the technology to treat diabetics and improve the viability of transplanted islet cells, they hope it could eventually serve as a valuable tool to treat any kind of chronic disease.

Solution News Source

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