One of the hallmarks of type 1 diabetes (T1D) is the destruction of insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells. The immune system mistakenly attacks these cells leaving the body unable to regulate blood glucose levels naturally. Instead, insulin must be administered manually or via an insulin pump in order to prevent hyperglycemia.
Researchers have been experimenting with cell transplantation methods to replace these depleted cells and enable the body to produce its own insulin once again. A major obstacle to this approach is cell survival and viability. The stress of injecting the cells can cause cell death, and the body often treats the transplanted cells as foreign bodies and elicits an immune response to destroy them. Scientists have used various strategies for encapsulating the cells to reduce stress and protect them from the immune system. Some have been more effective than others.
A new study examines the effectiveness of caging pancreatic islets in a multilayer hydrogel nanofilm. The nanofilm combines monophenol-modified glycol chitosan and hyaluronic acid to create a thin protective barrier that still enables oxygen and nutrients to flow into the caged cells while also allowing insulin and waste to flow out. In addition, it provides immunoisolation, eliminating the need for immunosuppressants.
When tested in T1D-induced mouse models, the nanofilm-caged spheroids were able to achieve normoglycemia compared to control groups. Scientists further evaluated their effectiveness by removing the kidney where the spheroids had been transplanted. As a result, the mice experienced hyperglycemia once again. Using a multilayer hydrogel nanofilm provided protection against mechanical stress and immune response while enabling the islets to regulate blood glucose levels.
Although this approach has only been tested on mouse models thus far, it provides a new approach for cell-based therapies. More research and testing are needed to determine if this transplantation method triggers the same effects in humans. It could one day open the door to new treatment options for individuals with type 1 diabetes.
Though not involved in this study, the Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) is committed to furthering research around T1D to improve diagnosis, treatment, and management of the disease and find a cure one day. The organization provides critical funding to early-career scientists pursuing novel research studies on T1D. Learn more and support current projects by visiting https://diabetesresearchconnection.org.
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