Insulin producing implant for Type 1 diabetics will soon be a reality

There could soon be an implant that could help regular blood glucose levels of type 1 diabetics and produce insulin as and when required without the patient having to worry about insulin injections all the time.

The work by Rice University bioengineers involves use of 3D printers and smart biomaterials to create an insulin-producing implant for Type 1 diabetics. The project is being done as a part of a three-year project in partnership between the laboratories of Omid Veiseh and Jordan Miller that’s supported by a grant from JDRF, the leading global funder of diabetes research.

Researchers will use insulin-producing beta cells made from human stem cells to create an implant that senses and regulates blood glucose levels by responding with the correct amount of insulin at a given time.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes the pancreas to stop producing insulin, the hormone that controls blood-sugar levels. About 1.6 million Americans live with Type 1 diabetes, and more than 100 cases are diagnosed each day. Type 1 diabetes can be managed with insulin injections. But balancing insulin intake with eating, exercise and other activities is difficult. Studies estimate that fewer than one-third of Type 1 diabetics in the U.S. consistently achieve target blood glucose levels.

Veiseh’s and Miller’s goal is to show their implants can properly regulate blood glucose levels of diabetic mice for at least six months. To do that, they’ll need to give their engineered beta cells the ability to respond to rapid changes in blood sugar levels.

The insulin-producing cells will be protected with a hydrogel formulation developed by Veiseh, who is also a Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas Scholar. The hydrogel material, which has proven effective for encapsulating cell treatments in bead-sized spheres, has pores small enough to keep the cells inside from being attacked by the immune system but large enough to allow passage of nutrients and life-giving insulin.

If the implant is too slow to respond to high or low blood sugar levels, the delay can produce a roller coaster-like effect, where insulin levels repeatedly rise and fall to dangerous levels.

By incorporating blood vessels in their implant, he and Miller hope to allow their beta-cell tissues to behave in a way that more closely mimics the natural behavior of the pancreas.

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