islet cell

The pancreases of pigs have, in the past, been instrumental in helping gather insulin for the treatment of diabetes. Now, scientists have returned to work with the pancreases of pigs to discover a way to safely transplant islet cells into humans with type 1 diabetes.

Islet cells the cells of the pancreas which produce insulin and other hormones.

Researchers from the University of Alabama have been working on the development of a protective nano-thin coating in which to surround the pig tissue so that they can be protected from an autoimmune reaction if they were transplanted into a human with the condition.

The trials, funded by the JDRF, are testing the efficacy of their nano-thin coating in mice with diabetes.

Although islet cell transplantation has been proven to help treat type 1 diabetes, people who have transplantations have to then take immunosuppressant medication for the rest of their lives, to prevent their errant immune system from destroying the cells.

As this is not ideal, researchers are looking for a method to protect the islet cells without having to shut down the immune system. However, any protection would still have to allow for oxygen and nourishment to get in and, obviously, letting the insulin they produce out.

The coating that the Alabama researchers are working on does just this – and is just 30 nanometres thick.

Dr Hubert Tse and Dr Eugenia Kharlampieva, working on the nano-coating, have reported that islet cells, using their special coating, have survived for up to 40 days within diabetic mouse models.

They said: “We showed that they do stay alive, and they function to regulate blood glucose… We did not expect the multilayers would show such a large, potential benefit.”