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A new treatment technique is being developed by Dutch researchers to treat type 1 diabetes through 3D printing.

This technique, known as bioplotting, involves creating a scaffold – made from a mixture of alginate and gelatine – to protect islet cells following transplantation.

Insulin-producing islet cells are destroyed by the immune systems of people with type 1 diabetes, with this form of encapsulation designed to allow the islets to work normally without being attacked.

Once in place, if the islet cells can allow insulin and blood to pass through successfully without damage, this may also prevent the requirement for immunosuppressant drugs following transplantation to prevent an immune system attack.

Researchers at the University of Twente are also working on preventing the islet cells from migrating following transplantation, with the scaffold designed to hold the cells in place.

Dr A A van Apeidoorn, co-author of the study from the University of Twente, reported: “Our results showed that once the islet cells were retrieved from the 3D scaffolds in the lab, they were able to produce insulin and respond to glucose in the same way as non-printed islet cells.

“If we are to improve the success of this treatment for type 1 diabetes, we need to create an implant in which islets are embedded, or encapsulated, from a material that allows for very efficient oxygen and nutrient supply, and quick exchange of glucose and insulin, while keeping the host cells out,” van Apeidoorn added.

3D printing could prove to be a fascinating form treatment in type 1 diabetes research, but as of yet the findings remain at an early stage, with additional testing and development required.

The results from this study were published in IOP.