Bigger Capsules Keep Islet Cells Safe

Finding may make islet cell transplantation a more viable therapy for Type 1 diabetes.



Researchers believe that increasing the size of capsules holding islet cells will help them survive in the human body during islet transplant therapy. This could provide a way to make islet transplantation a more viable therapy for Type 1, a FierceBiotech Research article reports.

Islet cells contain the beta cells responsible for producing insulin. For islet cell transplant therapy to work, the transplanted cells must be shielded from the body’s immune system, as the immune system attacks such cells in the body of someone with Type 1. Scientists have been trying to find ways to keep insulin-producing islets safe inside a gel-like transportation pod.

(Proposed islet cell capsules not pictured here.)

In previous studies involving mice models, scientists showed that containing islets inside of spheres with microscopic holes allows the insulin to seep out and nutrients to come in, keeping the islets alive without triggering the immune system to attack the cell. However, these islet-containing spheres developed scar tissue, cutting off the flow of nutrients through the holes in the spheres. Researchers believed at the time that if they increased the size of the capsules, the insulin wouldn’t be able to pass through the microscopic holes and be effective in the bloodstream.

Now, according to researchers at MIT, increasing the size of the islet-bearing spheres to 1.5 millimeters in diameter, 50% larger than the largest capsule used in previous studies, is a workable solution. They found that spheres that were 1.5 millimeters in diameter survived in the bodies of mice and primates and helped those animals maintain good blood glucose levels for 180 days, five times longer than capsules 0.5 millimeters wide.

The next step, according to researchers, is to begin clinical trials to test the safety and efficacy of these larger capsules. If all goes well, they are hopeful that this will help islet cell replacement therapy go mainstream.

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Travis served as a staff writer for Insulin Nation and Type 2 Nation in 2015. Previously, he was a staff writer for Insight, a high school newspaper, as well as a copywriter for The Emersonian, Emerson's yearbook.