Oxygen Supply May be Key in Supporting Islet Transplantation

One of the strategies scientists have focused on in the treatment of type 1 diabetes is transplanting healthy islet cells into the body to naturally produce insulin and manage blood glucose levels. These cells may be lab-generated or come from a donor. However, a major challenge has been conducting these transplants without reliance on immunosuppressants which can compromise overall patient health and complicate treatment.

In order to overcome this obstacle, researchers have created encapsulation devices to protect transplanted islet cells from attack by the body without using immunosuppressants. But with these devices, the lifespan of cells has been limited, in part due to poor oxygen supply. The devices often limit access to oxygen or restrict diffusion.

A new study has found that surrounding islet cells in an oxygen-permeable membrane and equipping the encapsulation device with an oxygen chamber can provide the necessary oxygen supply to keep cells functional and viable. Scientists experimented with varying levels of islet cell surface density and oxygen partial pressure (pO2).  The chamber allowed oxygen to be diffused throughout the highly concentrated alginate slab of islet cells.

The results showed that an average of 88% of islet cells maintained their viability and supported normoglycemic levels when tested in diabetic rats. Due to the continuous diffusion of oxygen, the chamber needs to be refilled daily through a subcutaneous port. Of the 137 rats in the trial, 66 remained normoglycemic for at least eight weeks. Some remained normoglycemic for up to 238 days, at which point the device was electively removed. Upon explanation, rats experienced hyperglycemia. When given intravenous glucose tolerance tests, results from rats with the implanted device were not significantly different than those of non-diabetic rats.

Researchers are currently exploring opportunities to decrease the size of the device while achieving greater islet density and continued viability. This study demonstrates how technology is advancing to create more options for treating and potentially curing type 1 diabetes with fewer complications and undesirable side effects.

Though not involved with this particular study, the Diabetes Research Connection is committed to supporting novel research for type 1 diabetes in an effort to prevent and cure the disease as well as reduce complications and improve quality of life for those living with type 1 diabetes. Visit us online at http://diabetesresearchconnection.org to learn more about current research projects and provide support for these initiatives.

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