New System Reduces Volume of Cells Needed for Islet Cell Transplantation

Islet cell transplantation — a potentially long-lasting treatment for type 1 diabetes that may reduce or even eliminate the need to take insulin — has undergone numerous studies in animal models, as well as a few with human subjects.

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One of the problems with transferring these insulin-producing cells from a donor is that the recipient’s immune system tends to attack them, since they’re not native to the body. To help prevent this, researchers have developed microcapsules that are resistant to an immune system attack. These capsules are filled with donor cells, then placed in the recipient.

A drawback of this system is that due to how micro encapsulation works, lots of the capsules end up empty. And without a way to sort empty capsules from ones filled with donor cells, a high volume of capsules will need to be transplanted — which is itself a risk for an immune system reaction.

Now, a team of researchers in Spain has developed a process to sort microcapsules for islet transplantation — drastically reducing the number of capsules that need to be placed in the recipient.

In a study published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics, the researchers describe how they used a 3D printer to create a magnetic sorting device. When donor islet cells are magnetized before being placed in microcapsules, this sorting device can separate out unfilled capsules to reduce the volume needed for transplantation by 77.5% for one type of capsule, and by 78.6% for another type.

In a study of diabetic rats, the researchers were able to maintain normal blood glucose levels with these transplanted microcapsules for almost 17 weeks.

The researchers note that further studies are needed to explore the potential impact of this process on the feasibility of islet cell transplantation in humans.

Want to learn more about recent Type 1 diabetes research? Read “Reversing Type 1 Diabetes: New Research From Boston Children’s Hospital,” “Can a Very Low-Carb-Diet Help People With Type 1 Diabetes?” and “Type 1 Diabetes Research: What’s New?”

Quinn PhillipsQuinn Phillips

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree in government from Harvard University. He writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy. 

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